POSTED: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - 12:30pm
UPDATED: Monday, July 22, 2013 - 5:30pm
THIBODAUX, LA (NBC33) — Love can make even the most mature person do crazy things. Unfortunately, technology has created a growing problem among teens and young adults that can have very serious consequences.
“When dealing with kids, they’re sending pictures to each other because they don’t think about the long term consequences,” David Melancon, Thibodaux Police Department, explained. “When young people are in relationships, they think they love that person and they are going to be together forever. But when the breakup happens, the other person ends up with compromising photos of you.”
Although sending sexually explicit photos to a significant other is not a problem specific to teens, it is a unique situation that could lead to criminal charges.
“What many people do not know is that an underage girl can snap a picture of herself and send it to someone who is older, and they can be charged with possession of child pornography,” Melancon noted. “Being ignorant of the juvenile’s age is not a defense. If the officer can prove the person in the picture is not of age, they can be charged.”
It is important to note the individual who receives the photo does not have to be a legal adult to face charges.
“There have been teenagers who have been charged with possession of child pornography, too,” he added. “No matter your age, if you have pictures of someone underage, you could be charged criminally.”
The person who sent the photo is not free from blame. In fact, the juvenile could face a charge just as damaging.
“If an underage teenager or child sends a naked photo of themselves to someone else, they can be charged with distribution or production of child pornography.”
Unfortunately, the result of sexually compromising photos is more likely to end up in the public eye rather than a courtroom.
“Locally, there was a young girl who sent a naked picture of herself to her boyfriend,” Melancon explained. “She trusted him and believed he would not send it to anyone else. He didn’t, but his friend got hold of his phone and he blasted it out. Then, the people who got it blasted it out, and it eventually ended up on the phone of someone who was at work. One of the men working there asked what they were looking at, and when they showed him, it was a picture of his daughter.
“The girl fell victim to something she thought was secure and safe,” he continued.
In this case, the individual who distributed the image did so after gaining direct access to the phone. However, in the digital age, everything stored is subject to possible hackers.
"If you have something you don't want the world to share, you shouldn't have it on your phone," Josh Henderson, a computer expert at Computer Heaven in Baton Rouge, said in a past interview with NBC33. "You can be in the room with somebody, not using [your phone], but if you do not have a password on your phone, they can get in your files, pictures, text, emails, anything like that."
Wi-Fi helps keep your data plan under control, but it can give access to just about anyone, making it easy for someone to find compromising photos and distribute them online. Once the photo is distributed, there’s a far more dangerous situation possible than embarrassment.
“I have heard cases where people use these photos to get what they want from the other person,” Melancon said. “I think that’s it’s important for teens and adults to know that when they send a compromising photo out, they are no longer in control of who sees that photo and you’re in turn no longer in control of yourself because it can easily be used against you.”
Blackmail, public humiliation, criminal charges; none of these are things you wish upon yourself, let alone your child, but what can you do about it?
“Educate them on the dangers of what they face and the long term consequences,” Melancon noted. “Take a proactive stance in monitoring your child’s activity. The days of putting a computer in the family room are over. Now you have 12-year-olds with smart phones. They can take pictures and post inappropriate things online without you ever knowing it.”
Although the cases presented in this story are extreme, they are not uncommon. Use them as examples to begin a dialogue with your child, and take this as a first step to educating yourself on the dangers of a virtual-based society.
“For parents, this can be very scary,” Melancon concluded. “Be proactive. Educate yourself. Chances are your kids don’t know everything about the Internet, either.”
This story is part of a series called “The thin blue line separating social from cell block.” The first story in the series focuses on the ways law enforcement utilizes social media sites for criminal cases. Click here  to read that story.