Vandalia Community High School students learned last week that sending sexual text and photo messages has both moral and legal ramifications.
Vanessa Wright, a prevention educator with the Sexual Assault and Family Emergency clinic, and Fayette County State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison addressed all VCHS students during physical education classes on Thursday, explaining those ramifications.
“You have no clue what type of people are getting a hold of your pictures,” Wright told students. “You think you are just sending them to your boyfriend.”
She showed students segments from two television shows, one in which a panel of guests talked with a young man who is a registered sex offender because he was convicted of a sexting offense.
In Illinois, Wright said, “There is no sexting law. That means that you will be grouped in with sex offenders.”
A second TV segment featured the story of a teen girl who had committed suicide as a result of sexting. That girl sent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend, and after they broke up, the photo was sent to hundreds of other teens.
The girl killed herself after being tortured and harassed.
That story, Wright said, serves as a reminder to teens of what can happen when a nude photo is sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend. “High-school relationships are often not permanent,” she said.
“Suicide is a whole off-side (of sexting),” she said.
Morrison told students that his part of the presentation pertained to the criminal aspect of sexting.
“I want you all to understand the legal ramifications,” Morrison said.
He explained that his office prosecutes five levels of felony offenses, which include child pornography.
Students under the age of 18, Morrison said, are considered juveniles. And when a juvenile sends or receives a nude photo of a person under 18, he or she can be prosecuted for either sending or receiving a photo that is legally considered to be child pornography.
“You could go to prison today” for such a criminal violation, Morrison said.
“And, for every photo you send, that’s a different count, and you can be sentenced to consecutive sentences for all counts,” he said.
The state’s attorney told students that he is currently prosecuting a man charged with 10 counts of child pornography. “I could have charged about 100 counts.
“If you are taking (nude) photos of yourself and sending them, you are in the same class as that sex offender,” Morrison said. “In Illinois, it’s illegal to send or to receive (be in possession of) child pornography.
“Unintended consequences, that’s what this is all about. Those who have sent these photos and suffered the consequences later, they didn’t think it through,” he said.
“These decisions that you make now will affect you the rest of your life, either positively or negatively,” Morrison said. “I want you to think about what you do.”