Last updated: June 23. 2014 7:14PM - 6070 Views
By - skess@civitasmedia.com - 740-413-0903



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By Stacy Kess


skess@civitasmedia.com


A juvenile arraigned in court Monday brought focus to use of social media to share nude or sexual photos.


It’s known as sexting.


A 16-year-old boy was charged with second-degree felony illegal use of a minor in materials involving nudity and a fifth-degree felony of disseminating material harmful to a minor. According to the charges, he posted photographs of nude girls to Instagram, a social media photo sharing website, in February. For that act, he could face time until the age of 21.


“We see a fair number of cases involving person-to-person transmission (of nude photos),” said Delaware County Juvenile Court magistrate David Hejmanowski. “It’s not just male or females.”


He said both boys and girls are sending nude or sexual materials — sometimes while dating, sometimes not — by text, as well as social media sites like Instragram, a photo site owned by Facebook, and an application called Snapchat. Snapchat allows a text, picture or video to be sent to another user, but the message or image only lasts for 10 seconds.


“They’ll think that it’s gone, but you can take a screen shot of it,” Hejmanowski said.


The service posts in its terms of use that a user must be older than 13 years of age to use Snapchat and that the service is not to be used for illegal purposes. Snapchat has not released its number of users, but a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center suggested 9 percent of adult cellphone users have the Snapchat app; no data was available on the number of juvenile users. Likewise, the number of juvenile Instagram users is also unknown; similar to Snapchat, the site requires users to be at least 13 years of age.


Still, users are sending the sexual material, even if under the age of 18 — and when a minor is in a nude or sexually explicit image, it is a crime.


That’s where the problem starts, said Delaware County First Assistant Prosecutor Kyle Rohrer.


“(Teenagers) may grow up with the technology in their hand, but there are consequences (to sending inappropriate material),” he said. “Just look at this case.”


Hejmanowski said about 10 cases a year involving juveniles and sexual materials come through his courtroom, but both he and Rohrer said juveniles are sending nude or inappropriate photos across social media, text or Snapchat more frequently than that.


According to FBI national data, 22 percent of teenage girls and 18 percent of teenage boys send naked or semi-nude images of themselves or posted them online while approximately 16 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 who own cell phones have received nude or partially nude images by text message. The messages are coming from someone teenagers know — often another teenager.


A survey by the National Foundation to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy showed 71 percent of teenage girls and 67 percent of teenage boys who sent such images said they sent such material to a boyfriend or girlfriend. The survey found those images are then being shared with others: 44 percent of the teens surveyed said sexually suggestive material is shared with others than the intended recipient of the image or text. When it comes to sexually explicit images, 36 percent of teenage girls and 39 percent of teenage boys said nude or semi-nude images are being shared beyond the intended recipient.


Teens may admit it happens, but the cases of teens who share nude or sexual material of themselves or other teenagers may not be heard in court.


“It has to come to the attention of law enforcement to become a case,” Rohrer said.


He said unless it’s reported, the case will not come to the prosecutor’s office — and for the most part, teens aren’t telling.


To head off the problem, Rohrer said County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien is working with the Ohio State Bar Foundation to promote “B4USend,” a program aimed at middle school students to encourage responsible use of social media and texting. The program, available at www.osbf.net/what-we-do/b4usend, also focuses on cyberbullying.


The juvenile arraigned Monday, whose name is being withheld from court records, will be in court again July 3 for a pre-trial hearing. He is currently being held in Franklin County for a probation violation.


Reporter Stacy Kess can be found on Twitter @StacyMKess.


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