Salisbury High School presented an assembly recently on the dangers of sexting – a seminar offered by District Attorney Jim Martin's office for school districts in the Lehigh Valley.
Sexting is described as taking a nude picture of yourself or someone else with cellphone cameras and texting it to others or posting nude photos of yourself on social media, such as Facebook or MySpace.
Since the beginning of 2011, Chief Deputy District Attorney Christie Bonesch and Deputy District Attorney Anna-Kristie Morffi Marks have presented the program to thousands of students who attend Salisbury, Whitehall, Parkland, Catasauqua, Southern Lehigh and Northwestern Lehigh high schools, Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School in Bethlehem, Roberto Clemente Charter School in Allentown and Upward Bound students at East Stroudsburg University.
The Upward Bound program is a federally funded pre-college program for low-income, first-generation potential college students.
The program encompasses Monroe and Lehigh counties, and 60 percent of the students in the program are from Allentown.
Marks spoke directly to the students at Salisbury and explained that once a photo is sent via cellphone, iPad, iPod or computer, all control of that image is lost.
She said even if an image is deleted from a device, the image is still there and the Pennsylvania State Police can access that image.
"The effects are forever," Marks said of the images being sent out across the Internet. "That image can be posted to the Web in minutes or sent to multiple contact lists."
A new law, which took effect in December 2012, involves sexting by minors someone who is under 18 years old.
For juveniles, if they possess or distribute a nude picture of themselves or possess or view a sexually explicit image of another minor age 12 or over on a device, they could be charged with a summary offense.
If that juvenile knowingly transmits, distributes or publishes a nude photo of another minor who is 12 years of age or older, he or she could be charged with a misdemeanor of the third degree.
If they knowingly make a visual depiction of another minor in the state of nudity without the knowledge and consent of the minor or transmit, distribute or publish a visual depiction of another minor in a state of nudity without the knowledge and consent of the minor to harass an individual, that could be charged as a misdemeanor of the second degree.
Criminal records will state "sexting by minor."
Felony charges will apply if the person creates child pornography, disseminates child pornography, is in possession of child pornography or criminally uses a communication device such as a cellphone, home computer or laptop. That means taking, distributing or having nude photos of yourself or anyone under 18 years old.
Some students in high school are 18 years old and they can be charged as adults for these crimes.
Court hearings are open to the public and names can appear in the newspaper. Marks also told the students a guilty plea or a conviction becomes part of a permanent criminal record.
If charged as an adult, the convicted individual may have to register with Pennsylvania State Police under Megan's Law, where information is made public.
Residents can see if there is anyone living near them with child pornography or other child charges by visiting pameganslaw.state.pa.us.
Charges as an adult are classified as felonies and include jail time up to 10 years and fines up to $25,000.
Charges as a juvenile could include going to court, fines, community service, possible expulsion from school, being sent to a juvenile facility, being placed on probation or on house arrest and court supervision for life. Marks said judges have also been known to take the convicted person's cellphone or computer and prohibit or limit future use.
"This could affect college work," Marks said. "Employers and colleges perform background checks and security clearances; they will find your criminal record."
Marks asked the students what career path they were interested in: teacher, coach, police officer, firefighter, state trooper, government worker or a person working with children.
"Images can be found years later," Marks said. "Admission personnel will see the photos and they may not want students with records."
If all of that isn't bad enough, Marks said family members will see the images posted in court and noted the embarrassment to everyone involved.
Marks has prosecuted hundreds of cases. She has been assigned to the Special Victims Unit and prosecutes defendants charged with crimes against children, such as computer crimes involving child pornography, child sexual and physical abuse, endangering the welfare of children and invasion of privacy.
She has handled adult and juvenile cases. One of the high-profile cases she prosecuted was the case of a man who secretly filmed foreign exchange students and other teenagers while they were in the bathroom of his home. The defendant was sentenced to 55 months to 26 years in state prison on possession of child pornography and invasion of privacy charges.
She also prosecuted the juvenile case of a 15-year-old student at a Lehigh County high school who admitted he took hundreds of upskirt photos and videos of female classmates and teachers and posted them on the Internet.
The boy was placed on probation and was ordered to undergo counseling, perform 100 hours of community service and complete victim-awareness classes.
He was prohibited from using the Internet and cameras and phones with Web and photographic abilities.
Marks also shared national cases including those of actress Vanessa Hudgens whose cellphone was hacked and photos were sent out; Tyler Clementi, whose college roommate took a video of him and a boyfriend kissing and distributed it over the Internet and Jesse Logan, whose ex-boyfriend distributed inappropriate photos of her. Both Clementi and Logan committed suicide because of the humiliation.
"Is it worth all that?" Marks asked the students. "Sexting is a mistake you can't take back," she said.
I understand sending inappropriate photos over the Internet has been going on for some time; however, youth do not understand how hurtful this can be and the ramifications associated with pushing the send button. They trust their friends who say they won't send the photos to anyone else and are not mature enough to think these decisions through.
Tough talk seminars like this are needed to let the students know there are consequences to their actions that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
East Penn Press