Police spreading the word on sexting dangers

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NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck police are reviving their public education effort about potential dangers of sharing private images after a recent case of sexting between two young teens.

An image or message that is intended to be private often doesn’t stay that way and can have long-standing negative impacts on the victim, said Lt. Bryan Cammarata, police spokesman.

“Once you put something out there, you don’t know what’s going to happen to it,” he said. “It stands true with just about everything you do with modern technology and social media.”

Luckily, Cammarata said, the images in the latest case were not shared beyond their intended recipient. A girl shared a nude photo of herself with a boy her age. However, the boy’s mother learned of the images and became upset when she learned the girl’s mother knew the teens were having a sexual relationship and did nothing to stop it.

Police charged the teenagers with possession of child pornography by a minor; it is illegal for anyone ages 13 to 17 to send or receive a pornographic image of someone between the ages of 13 and 15 in Connecticut. The girl’s mother, a 40-year-old local woman, was charged with two counts of risk of injury to a minor.

In this circumstance, police say the mother had an opportunity to teach her child about the dangers not only of sexual relations at a young age but also of sexting, defined as sharing nude or seminude photos through electronic communication, usually a text message or social media message.

“Parents have to be aware of what is happening,” Cammarata said. “When a red flag comes up, parents have to be on top of it; they have to step up and talk to their children.”

Detective Amanda Devan has worked with schools recently to create technology awareness programs for students. In 2012, local police teamed with state Reps. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70) and David Labriola (R-131) to hold a forum for students and parents called “The Realm of Online Danger — What Teenagers Need to Know.” Hundreds of people attended the free event. A similar panel discussion was held in 2009.

Rebimbas is credited with creating the state’s first sexting law to address this issue. She introduced a bill in the legislature that became law in 2010. House Bill 5533: An Act Concerning Sexting, creates more awareness of the issue and creates a clear division between sexual predators and immature teens who engage in sexting. The bill makes the crime a Class A misdemeanor, though prosecutors still have the ability to decide whether the crime meets the child pornography threshold.

Part of what Rebimbas vowed to do when she introduced that bill was to create public awareness of the issue.

One of her messages — and a major message at the forums — was that parents need to be informed about what children are doing online and talk to children about the consequences of their actions. The message for teens was that once they are on the internet, the sender no longer owns those images and anyone can access them.

That is the same message Cammarata said police are trying to convey now.

“There is no limit on where these things can show up,” he said. “And once they are out there, anything is possible.”

As a father of teenagers, Cammarata said he is sympathetic to teens because he said they don’t always think things through or think of the long-term effects of their actions.

“That is why education is so important,” he said.