Police and prosecutors told WAAY 31 sexting, the act of sending explicit messages or images by cell phone, is a real problem in the Tennessee Valley and across the country. That's why Huntsville police brought this story straight to the WAAY 31 I-Team.
"It is extremely prevalent. More prevalent than anyone would realize," Madison County Deputy District Attorney Tim Gann said.
Starting as early as middle school, kids younger than 18 are taking and sending naked pictures of themselves and sharing them via text or social media.
"The actual consent for intercourse in Alabama is 16, but the production and dissemination of everything is 17 and under. Even if you do the intercourse, you can't video tape it, take pictures, or anything like that," Daphne Treece, member of the Huntsville Police Department Special Victims Unit, said.
After talking with a deputy district attorney, police, and teenagers we've gotten a pretty good idea of how this usually plays out. A guy asks a girl for a picture, and the girl gives him what he's looking for. However, what neither seems to know is it's against the law for anyone younger than 18 to send or receive those kinds of images. WAAY 31 asked teenagers who are younger than 18 if they knew sexting is illegal.
"No I did not know that," a female teenager said.
"I actually didn't know sexting was illegal," a male teenager said.
For privacy, we're not identifying the teens who talked to us, but they told WAAY 31 they first heard about sexting when they were 12 and 13 years old.
"I knew this guy. We were in the same ROTC thing, or group. I've known him for like three years now. He was just like 'hey I think you're cute.' and I sort of liked him," the female teenager said.
Her feelings changed when things got weird.
"He was like 'hey do you want to sext?' or something like that, and I was like 'no.' I'm not really comfortable with like doing that stuff because it's weird. He sent me pictures anyway," the female teenager said.
He sent her nude pictures. She did not send any back, and because she didn't ask for or keep the photos she's in the clear. The Madison County District Attorney's office told us that if you keep nude photos of someone younger than 18 on your phone, the original sender doesn't matter.
"If you are involved in that kind of behavior at an early age, you are committing a felony and the person that's receiving it is also committing a felony," Gann said.
This year, Huntsville police said there are 18 reported cases of possessing child porn and nine cases of disseminating it.
"There's probably a lot that we've never even known about," Treece said.
If you're younger than 18 and take, send, or share a naked picture of yourself or someone else your age, you are guilty of committing a crime. WAAY 31 asked Gann what the worst case scenario would be if your kid is caught with child porn.
"You're talking lifetime registration as a sex offender and going to the department of corrections. It doesn't get much more serious than that," Gann said.
Gann told us his office doesn't want to throw the book at every minor caught with child porn.
"We're not looking to fill the jail full of people who do this, but we are looking to educate," Gann said.
Police and prosecutors are also aware of apps like Snapchat, that promise to make pictures disappear after only a few seconds. They do warn that nothing ever really disappears, and they do have ways of retrieving pictures that were deleted.
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Unknown Consequences of Sexting
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: e-WIC Cards
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Pharmacist Gag Clauses
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Alabama's disappointing E-Verify compliance
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: VA disability claim appeal delays
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Sheriff Ana Franklin's questionable connections
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Pinpointing 911 cell calls
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Cleaning contaminated water
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Morgan County Whistleblower blogger
- WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: 565's frustrations, failings & future