This post written by Detective Bryan Brown who is assigned to the Internet Crimes against Children Unit of the Evansville Police Department. As part of that job he has been sworn in as a federal law enforcement officer and is assigned to the FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force. His primary responsibility is to investigate individuals or groups using the Internet and/or other online technology to sexually exploit children.
How many of you know of a friend or fellow student that could very easily be in this same situation? Maybe you could find yourself in this situation someday? Youth produced sexual images are defined as images of minors created by minors that could qualify as child pornography under applicable criminal statutes.
There are several long term effects that a student can endure if they are producing sexual images of themselves and sharing them with others. We will touch on a few of those problems that can arise and cause very significant long term damage as well as short term damage.
The first issue that we will discuss is the embarrassment factor. Some of you may know someone who has already gone through this at your school. The Evansville Police Department and Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office have already investigated several cases involving youth produced sexual images involving students in the Evansville area. Law enforcement around the country is investigating more and more of these types of incidents. Imagine the following being sent to every parent/guardian of a student in your school by your principal. “Unfortunately, I need to inform you that it has come to our attention that some students have recently sent or received inappropriate images of a sexual nature via cell phone”. This is part of an actual letter sent home by a principal of a middle school in New Jersey. In this case the students were given a specific deadline to remove the nude photo of a classmate or they would face possible criminal charges. Given the way everyone communicates via social networks and text messaging today, how long do you think it took for the name of the student in the photo to be circulated? Or consider this story out of Pennsylvania. “Two middle school students are among the first to be charged under a new state law that regulates sexting among teens”. Courts across the country are being asked to step in and help come up with solutions to help stop the growing problem of youth produced sexual images. The courts and law enforcement can no longer sit by and consider this a school problem only. I believe we will see more and more courts across the country putting criminal charges in place that deal directly with these youth produced sexual images.
Not only do you have to worry about the embarrassment factor that could come into play when you put yourself in this situation but there are the long term effects also. Imagine being turned down to the college you’ve always wanted to attend because of a poor choice you made when you took a picture of yourself years earlier. Or consider being turned down to work at a job that you’ve worked so hard to get all because you decided to take a picture of yourself with no clothes on and send it to your boyfriend or girlfriend and then it got sent to several other people and on and on. The realities of this situation are that once you take the picture and send it to someone else, you might as well consider it forever memorialized on the Internet. There is no way of guaranteeing that a picture has been completely removed from the Internet or other digital media devices such as cell phones, etc.
It is very possible that you may take a picture of yourself for the boy or girl that you believe you are in love with today and send it to him or her. Shortly after that you break up. Then you find out that the same person you thought you were in love with is using the picture you produced to bully you or have others bully you. In today’s world we don’t have to find the news, it finds us; most of us have heard stories of middle school and high school students being bullied by other students. Now imagine being bullied not just by words but also by a picture that you produced of yourself that just will not go away no matter whom you tell or what you try to do about it. Being bullied in the traditional sense is very physically and emotionally draining on anyone and even more so when you add in youth produced sexual images. Consider the following real life situation and ask yourself if this could happen in your school or with your friends. “Two high school girls (A & B) got mad at each other. They had been friends and had access to nude photos of each other. Girl A showed a nude photo of Girl B to another girl. Girl B thought the photo had been shown to many people. To get even, she sent a nude picture of Girl A to several boys. Several days later, both girls were in the principal’s office, crying and upset.
This leads us to the final area that we will discuss on this issue. Again, this is not all of the ramifications of producing sexual images of yourself but it is believed that these are some of the biggest problems students are facing today. Some of you who are older and are engaging in this type of behavior are putting yourself in a position to possibly be blackmailed. You’re close to graduation and you’ll be entering the workforce soon. Those of you in middle school are not immune from this. You’re just not as close to entering the workforce yet. As mentioned earlier, these images are not going away. Just because you’ve graduated high school and college does not mean these images are gone and can never be produced again. Some of you may be looking to go into careers that involve classified information. You can bet that you’re going to be asked by the potential employer if there is anything in your background that could put you at risk for being a target of blackmail. With youth produced sexual images of you floating around in cyberspace, how are you going to honestly answer that question? You have to remember, if it’s a job that your employer is worried about you being a target of blackmail, your most likely going to have to take a polygraph examination. Now you may say to yourself that you’ll never enter a job like the ones that require polygraph examinations or where you might handle classified information. You may work really hard and become a CEO of a company or some other type of executive position and end up involved with negotiating business deals. Not everyone in the business world uses the best business ethics and could easily use an old picture to gain an upper hand in negotiations. The fact is, whatever career you choose may be put in jeopardy by some inappropriate decisions you made years earlier when you decided to send nude photos of yourself to a boyfriend or girlfriend or maybe even to someone on the Internet that you didn’t know.
Some of you in relationships are being pressured or asked to produce these kinds of images. Step back and think for a moment and reflect on your relationship and ask yourself if the other person is treating you with respect and love when they ask you to do something that could be extremely damaging if/when discovered.
Imagine all the embarrassment you try to avoid throughout your middle school and high school years all wrapped up in one picture or video. Is it worth it?