Internet sex crimes and kids: Sexting consequences

MARQUETTE & CALUMET, Mich. (WLUC) - Two major teen sexting cases in the past two years in Upper Michigan have ended with no criminal charges filed. But under state laws, teens sending or receiving nude pictures on a cell phone can be charged like a serious child pornography crime.

At Marquette Senior High School, student council leaders say they believe many teens don't understand or choose to ignore the potential punishments of sexting.

"It's brushed under the table, never really talked about, no one really says much," said Eli Pickard, an MSHS senior and student council president.

"I just think kids think it's a taboo topic they don't like to put out there, obviously," said Laura Beckman, an MSHS senior and student council vice-president.

In Michigan, sexting cases fall under child pornography laws written before cell phones existed. It's illegal for teens to send or receive explicit pictures of themselves or other teens.

They could be charged with felonies of possession, distribution or solicitation which carry maximum penalties of prison time, fines and placement on the sex offender registry. Consequences in probate court could include intervention and prevention programs.

Matt Djerf, the community service trooper at the Michigan State Police post in Calumet, says there are many real-life consequences for teens.

"It could be very traumatic for them," said Djerf. "It could be embarrassing. It could keep them from getting a job. It could get them charged with criminal charges."

In Marquette County, prosecutor Matt Wiese warns charges could be filed.

"If you have such a photograph, and it's a guy and he shares it with his buddies and that gets passed around, that's an aggravating circumstance and maybe that would be something we would charge," said Wiese.

Last school year, the Michigan State Police investigated a sexting case that started with just a few teens in Marquette County high schools. But investigators learned hundreds of high schoolers across the county were involved. Wiese decided not to file any charges.

"This last go around, we did not issue charges with the understand that the phones would be swept clean, that we would do some public awareness," he said.

In the Copper Country, the Michigan State Police halted a sexting ring in December 2015 involving nearly 40 14 and 15 year old boys and girls. No charges were filed, but Djerf says that may not always be the case.

"We've put enough warnings and information out there, warning about the behavior, at some point we have to draw a line in the sand," he said.

Djerf emphasizes that nothing you send on your cell phone is private.

On Wednesday's TV6 Morning News, part three of this series will focus on having family conversations about these potential consequences and what may deter teens from sexting.

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