DA asks parents and teens to rein in illegal use before charges fly
Appalachian Circuit District Attorney Alison Sosebee has seen more than enough photos of naked teenagers recently, according to an interview last week.
What brought this parade of nude youth to our top prosecutor is a virtual epidemic of teen sexting across the district, which has resulted in numerous cell phone searches by law enforcement officers.
The cavalcade of nude teen snapshots is so widespread that Sosebee is going to all middle schools in the Appalachian circuit to address the problem directly with students. She is also arranging parent forums in all three counties.
Sosebee has already visited middle schools in Fannin and Gilmer counties and will be at both Pickens middle schools in early May with the message that sexting is a seriously bad decision and can result in life-destroying consequences.
“The repercussions of posting too personal of information and or texting sexually explicit photos can have life-long consequences both socially and legally. There is not a ‘stop button’ once something has been posted or texted. It concerns me, both as the district attorney and as a parent, that children, because that is what they are, may not understand the consequences to their future,” she said.
The DA said it had reached a point it seemed all she was doing was looking at inappropriate photos sent by teens to other teens, prompting her to call a meeting with sheriffs, judges and school resource officers.
She said there was strong agreement among those attending that something needed to be done to address this circuit-wide. It may further shock people to hear the school resource officers thought it would be more effective to take the program to the middle schools rather than the high schools. Sosebee, however, said she may go to high schools as well.
It should come as no surprise that most anything regarding a nude teenager is illegal: Sending, having or taking photos is a criminal offense.
If someone is sent a nude photo, even if it is a boyfriend getting one from a teenage girlfriend, both parties have broken the law. If the girl was under 13, it is a felony; both parties might wind up as official sex offenders. For law enforcement purposes, Sosebee said they make it simple - if private parts are shown, then it’s sexually explicit and illegal.
“Unfettered access to a cell phone and the internet is like holding a stick of dynamite,” Sosebee said.
And she adds that the fuse is already lit, it’s just a question of when it will go off.
The only way to avoid legal consequences is to delete any nude photo sent from someone immediately on any forum it might be sent. The ability to send the same photos to hundreds of fellow students on phones and on social media is one big part of the danger and also where it gets so complicated for law enforcement.
Cases get widespread by the ease of sending and resending. Sosebee said in one case she handled a single picture was found to have been linked to 35 receivers in one teen’s cell phone “dump” (search for information).
For teens thinking their technology is too advanced to get caught, the district attorney says you better think twice. Law enforcement personnel here have plenty of resources to uncover everything that ever showed up on your cell phone or other electronic device. And a subpoena will gain access to server records of providers, like Snapchat (a popular teen photo and video app that many think is private and temporary).
During her talks to the teens, Sosebee tries to impress on them both the legal jeopardy they place themselves in with photos and sexual comments online and also the real world issues. CLICK HERE for a video from the Powerpoint used by Sosebee.
Flirtatious behavior has always been part of the human make-up but this ability (and apparent trend) of sending nude photos on cell phones adds a new element entirely, Sosebee said. Instead of the old days of passing notes, now photos and words sent on a cell phone can easily make their way to social media, stay active for years and reach thousands.
She likened a poorly thought-out post or photo online “to a car that never runs out of gas. It just keeps going.” She said in one case a nude photo sent by a middle school student to a boyfriend in another state became so widespread and the girl so traumatized by it, that she committed suicide.
Sosebee notes this teen trend cuts across all social groups.
“It’s not a good kid, bad kid thing,” she said. “It’s across the board.”
Sosebee’s presentation also points out to the kids that future employers, college admission offices and clubs may do a social media search and you don’t’ want something to come up that may shortcut an opportunity down the road.
Furthermore, students may want to consider that parents, aunts and grandparents might come across a photo they sent somewhere online. Sosebee said the teen who committed suicide told people the thought that all her relatives would see it was among the most traumatizing part.
The DA said it’s important that parents be pro-active and there are plenty of resources, including software, that let’s a parent see everything on a cell, even stuff a user thought was deleted.
She also offers recommendations for resources for therapy/counseling for teens, as it is important for parents to look at the issues going on if a situation like those described develops.