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Sexting cases with middle and high school students on the rise in Polk

COLUMBUS-Local parents and students may not be aware that children under the age of 18 can be charged with child pornography for sharing nude photos and videos of anyone under the age of 18.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has had 12 cases in the last year and three months at Polk County Middle School and high school involving charges of dissemination of lewd material where students were charged with criminal acts for sharing pictures and videos, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

There were six cases last year where students were charged with juvenile crimes involving sexting and six cases already in the first three months this year, according to the sheriff’s office.

Capt. B.J. Bayne said cell phones are the cause of most of the charges and since there’s really not a crime that fits juveniles, the charges have to be related to adult porn charges.

“The goal is to correct the issue, not punish the issue,” Bayne said. “We really have a good team trying to get these kids educated.”

Juveniles charged in Polk County with acts regarding sending photographs or videos of juveniles that show nudity or other lewd acts are allowed on their first offense to sign a contract with the juvenile court that involves community service, getting good grades and taking educational classes, Bayne said.

Bayne said parents and students may not realize that a girl sending her boyfriend naked pictures that he sends out to his friends is considered child pornography by the law.

“The school system has taken impressive steps to fight this before it gets out of hand,” Bayne said.

She said beginning in 2013, the school system’s school resource officers began teaching a class as part of sex education for students to learn what is a crime and how to report crimes. The classes have to have parent permission and are offered to students in the seventh and eighth grades.

“We have seen big adjustments since the school resource officers have been doing this,” Bayne said.

Bayne said parents need to be hyper vigilante in what their child is sending with their cell phones.

“Parents need to get to know the apps, too,” Bayne said. “It’s not that you don’t trust them, you just need to protect them.”

Some apps, Bayne said, have ways for users to not have to identify themselves, and should never even be on a middle or high-school student’s phone.

Textplus, Whatsapp and Kik were some apps that Bayne mentioned are dangerous for children. Some apps are a way to let children hide chats from their parents.

Bayne said students need to know that it is a crime to send nude pictures of anyone under the age of 18.

“Them sending it to their friends is the same thing as sending it to a 50-year old man,” said Bayne. “We recommend parents talking to their kids and knowing their apps. There are so many predators that we investigate that now have access to your kids by that little phone they are carrying.”

Bayne said Polk County Schools is much more proactive with this problem than other schools and is proud of the work the school resources officers are doing to try to combat the issue.

The sheriff’s office is not releasing specific details about the charges because of the age sensitive material but does want parents to be aware that what their children could be doing is a crime.

“We spend so much time protecting our kids from the outside world we forget about the inside world when they are sitting in their own rooms,” Bayne said. “We live in an age where we have to talk to our kids.”

Bayne encourages any parents who want to learn more about the law and about apps their children could be using to call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 828-894-3001 and ask for her. She said she’d be happy to set up a class for parents to take to be educated on sexting, the laws and apps parents should be aware of.