In 2015, our office established a six-week program designed to help youth who face criminal charges because of sexting. Our office is one of only a few in the state that offer a sexting Diversion program. Participants learn that if they committed their offense in another jurisdiction, they could be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives.
It is against the law for anyone to send or receive naked pictures of anyone under the age of 18. That includes sending naked pictures of themselves. A person who sends or receives naked images of someone under 18 years of age can be charged with Sexual Exploitation of a Child, a Class 3 felony, which could result in having to register as a sex offender.
Juveniles in our sexting program learn about the ramifications of sexting, setting boundaries and using online technology wisely. The goal is to help the juveniles understand what they have done and make better decisions in the future. Successful completion of the program means that charges are not filed against the juvenile.
Parents attend three of the sessions with their children, learning about the law, technology safeguards and strategies for parenting. Four of the six sessions are facilitated by a licensed counselor addressing past sexting conduct, current attitudes and feelings, learning about consent and boundaries, and determining how to make better future decisions.
Participants also learn about the permanence of images sent online. Once a message or photo is sent or posted, it can never be completely deleted or removed.
The program has been enthusiastically received by the juveniles and their parents.
Here are some of their comments:
- “I didn’t realize the consequences of what I did. I regret everything I did. I was just trying to fit in with my friends and I let down my family.”
- “I did what I did because of a dumb teenager decision. I disrespected her and how she would feel. I realize I made a mistake and things could have gone way worse. I don’t want to get in trouble ever again.”
- “This impacted me a lot. It really showed me that what I did is wrong. It makes me want to do better and help prevent others from making the same mistake I did. I can take a lot from this class and pass it on to help put a stop to this crime.”
- “The fact that we get a second chance at life is great. I learned that my actions go farther than just one person and foolish mistakes can be costly.”
- “The best thing about this is I’m a better man. I realize all that I did. I learned and grew.”
- “The classes for the parents also were awesome. Most parents have no idea how serious this is for kids. I am thankful for this program. These charges could have ruined lives.”
- “The best thing about this group is the opportunity that the young men were given to learn, grow and accept responsibility.”