Amid an apparent problem with “sexting” at a local high school, the FBI is warning students in Pike County they could face charges and other problems through the sharing of explicit photos and chats.
At an assembly at Pikeville High School on Monday, FBI agent Kimberly Kidd told a group of students from PHS and Shelby Valley High School that there could be severe consequences for sexting — the sharing of sexually-explicit photos by text messaging or other digital communication means — or engaging in sexually-explicit online chats. Kidd told the students they could faces charges, including child pornography charges, and could be charged as an adult even before they turn 18.
Much of Kidd’s address to the students was cautionary, however.
Kidd told the students that once they share photos and information with someone on the Internet, they lose all control of who could see it and how, no matter how well they know the person with whom they share the content. Kidd said once content is posted or shared to the Internet, it is stored “somewhere” and can likely never be erased or deleted.
The results of sharing intimate content or information, she said, could be problems immediately for students or problems later in life if the content is brought forth. She added that the person who originated the photo would also never know who has the photo or who is viewing it or sharing it.
“What you do today, in this digital age, is going to follow you the rest of your life,” Kidd told the students. “And I don’t want to come back here because one of your images that was meant to be funny, innocent, intimate for a boyfriend or a girlfriend ends up on the Internet and ends up on some bad guy’s computer.”
She also told students that there are many ways adults act as “predators” of children, including posting fake accounts and posing as other people. She cautioned the students to not share intimate photos or details with anyone they meet online.
Kidd also warned that there could be severe legal implications to sharing intimate content, as well.
During the assembly, Kidd read several excerpts from news reports regarding students who have harmed themselves as a result of intimate photos of them being shared at large. She also read excerpts from court statements made by victims who have taken legal action against those who shared intimate content which was never meant to be shared past the initial receiver.
In some cases, Kidd said, students as young as 16 and 17 years old have been tried as adults. She said many students who turn 18 and possess nude images of underage classmates or share those images have faced child pornography charges.
Pikeville Police Det. Virgil Ray, who also took part in the assembly, told the students that at the least, and in the best-case scenario if they are caught with explicit content involving other students, they could have their phones and computers taken away or have their online accounts seized and closed.
Kidd said the most important aspect of her job is to keep children safe and a part of that task could be seizing and purging phones on a case-by-case basis. Ray added that in that case, a student’s rights to their devices are forfeit in the interest of keeping that student and other students safe.
Monday’s assembly came at time when, according to one teacher who spoke during the program, the topics of Kidd’s presentation to the students are a problem at Pikeville High School.
PHS junior and senior English teacher Susan Huffman, late in the assembly, turned to the students sitting behind her and acknowledged that there is a problem with sexting at the school. She told the students that although they may not take the topics discussed at the assembly seriously, they could suffer as a result of not acting responsibly with digital communication.
“This, what you’re talking about, it’s bad at our school,” Huffman said to Kidd. “It’s bad at our school and I want to encourage our kids that aren’t sending them ... don’t participate.”
Kidd told the News-Express following the assembly, however, that the problem is not limited to PHS, but is problematic everywhere.
“It’s not just here,” she said. “It’s all over. It’s anywhere there are cell phones and Internet chats and we’re trying to get the message across to students that this could harm them.”
Kidd said she hopes students take the information she provides seriously. The students, however, will likely shrug off much of the message until they find themselves in a compromising situation as a result of sexting or explicit chats, she said.
“It usually takes personal experience for most students,” she said. “Think about speeding in a car. You can speed all you want to but what’s it going to take to slow you down? It’s usually going to take you or a friend getting in that really bad wreck to slow you down and until that happens, you’re going to continue speeding. It’s the same thing here.”
Kidd said there are ways for students to report content being shared involving themselves or fellow students. Students can contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) tip line by calling, 1-800-THE-LOST. They can also visit NCMEC’s NetSmartz page at, www.netsmartz.org, where information regarding Internet safety is available.
Kidd said her caseload for cases involving explicit images of minors is heavy and many students are facing problems associated with being the victims of the sharing of such content. She said it is important for students to remember that if they suffer because of the sharing of such content or being a victim of an online predator, they are a victim and should not be ashamed to seek help.
“If you fall victim of an online predator, just remember it’s the same thing as an abuse situation; it’s not your fault,” Kidd said.