The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is reaching out with a message to parents: beware of what your child is putting into cyberspace.
The sheriff’s office hosts a series of sexting awareness class for parents, conducted by the office’s cybercrime unit, which is all too familiar with what can happen when minors are left unattended on the Internet. And investigators whose jobs include prosecuting online predators aim to remind parents that the Internet can be carried around in your back pocket.
Unfortunately, what can be contained in those back-pocket computers – your child’s cell phone – also has the potential to result in charges against the phone’s user. Minors who take or share sexually explicit images of themselves or others are in possession of child pornography, exposing themselves in more ways than one, said Detective Christine Brite, of the sheriff’s office’s Internet crimes against children unit.
“Any child under the age of 18 years old with a photo of themselves or someone else that shows any (sexually suggestive) image, you cannot have it, even of yourself,” Brite said. “That is called sexual exploitation of a child. We are talking about photos taken intentionally by the child or by someone else in a provocative pose showing their (sexually explicit private images). Even if the child has taken the photo of themselves, that child has committed that crime on their own.”
Sexting awareness rose to the top of the local radar in February when four students at Chaparral High School were forced to hand over their cell phones during a sexting investigation. That investigation was closed without the filing of any charges, but the dangers of sexting were fully exposed.
Sexting is a phrase to describe the practice of texting sexually explicit materials or images by cell phone or communication device. Sexting can include images or conversations sent through email or instant messaging, according to the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
When adults share or exchange sexual images in a private online or text forum, it is not a crime, says the district attorney’s office. When minors are involved in the exchanges, it could lead to charges of Internet sexual exploitation of a child.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, about 20 percent of teenagers in 2010 sent naked or semi-nude images of themselves or posted them online. Another survey indicated that nearly one in six teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who own cell phones have received naked or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know, according to the FBI.
“Anything placed on the Internet cannot be retrieved,” Brite said. “If they post a photo, it’s irretrievable. We will talk about the dangers of predators, the unknown, online predators. Being online in a chatroom is really just playing with the devil.”
The sexting awareness classes will be taught by officers from the sheriff’s office Youth Education and Safety in Schools program, the internet crimes against children unit and the special victims unit. The classes are intended for parents and a parent-based extension of the sheriff’s office in-school programs aimed at students. Parents can bring their age-appropriate children at the parents’ discretion, Brite said.
The sexting awareness classes are free and open to the public with classes on May 8, in Castle Rock, May 10, in Highlands Ranch and May 31, in Parker.
Sexting Awareness for Parents
6:30 p.m., May 8, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, 4000 Justice Way, Castle Rock
6:30 p.m., May 10, Highlands Ranch Substation, 9250 Zotos Drive, Highlands Ranch
6:30 p.m., May 31, Parker Library, 10851 S. Crossroads Drive, Parker