Photo by Jason White
Assistant State's Attorney Lauren Heischmidt talks to Alton High School students at an assembly on sexting Friday.
ALTON — Sexting can have lifelong consequences, a Madison County prosecutor told Alton High School students at an assembly Friday.
Assistant State's Attorney Lauren Heischmidt, who handles juvenile cases, provided freshmen and sophomores with information about sexting, defined as sending sexually explicit images, text messages or emails through a mobile device.
“My guideline is if you would not want your grandmother to see it, it’s probably indecent,” Heischmidt said.
She cited statistics from the Illinois Bar Association that one in five teens have sexted and two-thirds said they were sending the message to a boyfriend or girlfriend. Twenty-five percent of girls and 33 percent of boys admitted they showed the picture to someone else.
“If you’re sending a sext message to someone else and think no one else is seeing them, you’re probably wrong,” Heischmidt said. “It is a crime and you can be charged with child pornography.”
Supervision is one punishment for juveniles charged with child pornography. Offenders have to check in with a probation officer and may be required to undergo counseling or perform community service.
Offenders also can be sent to a detention facility, where they can be held until they turn 21.
Depending on the severity of the offense, juveniles can be charged as adults and be required to register as sex offenders.
“If I can stress anything, you don’t want that to happen to you,” Heischmidt said. “It affects where you live, the type of jobs you have.”
The prosecutor cited actual cases to emphasize sexting’s consequences. In Steubenville, Ohio, a 16-year-old girl passed out drunk at a party and other teens sexually assaulted her. Party-goers took photos of the assault and posted them on social media sites.
“I’m always amazed there were so many people around and no one helped this girl,” Heischmidt said. “Be brave enough to help people when they need help.”
She also talked about a girl who sent a nude photo to her boyfriend, who passed it on to his friends. After her teachers and family saw the photo, she committed suicide and her boyfriend had to register for life as a sex offender.
She cautioned students against services like Snapchat, a photo messaging service that deletes photos from the company’s servers after 1 to 10 seconds. Police are capable of tracking communications through a digital footprint to determine senders and receivers, Heischmidt said.
“Once something is on the Internet, it’s there forever,” she said.
“You’re the only ones that control your future, so make smart decisions.”