Editors note: In this edition of our monthly feature, we discuss new Colorado sexting laws with School Resource Officer Ryan Fritz, Investigator and School Resource Officer Norm Rimmer and Captain Bill Leonard.
Craig Press: What is sexting?
Fritz: Sexting is sharing sexually explicit images.
CP: When is sexting a crime?
Fritz: There is new legislation regarding sexting. The new law (CRS 18-7-109) went into effect Jan. 1. The design of the law is to prevent charging juveniles with felony offense child pornography. However, an explicit image of anyone under the age of 18 is still considered child pornography, and those charges may still be an option, depending on the situation.
It used to be that any explicit image of a juvenile under the age of 18 was considered a class three/class four felony. We were still sending these cases to the district attorney for review. To this point, the DA had been allowing, in most cases, the SROs to educate the child and parents. The new law changes this, with the DA reviewing all cases with the potential to charge.
There are three sections of the new law: posting, possessing and exchanging. The Colorado School Resources Center, a division of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, has provided guidance that every case involving juveniles with explicit images is now a criminal case, and it is up to the DA to decide charges.
The Colorado School Resources Center is expected to release additional educational materials soon.
CP: How do you address reports of sexting?
Fritz: Once we are alerted to it, we would do our investigation. Once the investigation is complete, it gets sent to the DA’s office, and they decide what, if any, charges are filed.
CP: What is the difference between sexting and other child sex crimes, like exploitation or luring?
Rimmer: An explicit image of anyone under the age of 18 is still considered child pornography.
Fritz: With students, we discuss what is explicit. If you wouldn’t send it to your grandmother, it’s probably explicit, but that is subjective.
Leonard: Once an image is sent, there’s no controlling it, and it will be popping up on every site imaginable. It’s important that parents have that conversation with their kids before they send anything online — that they understand the consequences of that action. We need the help of parents to educate on the proper use of technology.
CP: What should you do if you’re a juvenile and receive a sexually explicit image?
Rimmer: Delete it, don’t share it with anybody, report it.
Fritz: That all has to be done within 72 hours, however. We would encourage to report and delete immediately.
CP: What trends are you seeing with regard to sexting?
Rimmer: We started doing presentations about five years ago, and, as a result, we’ve seen a big downward trend in cases. We educate as to what it is, why you don’t want to do it, the impacts on children and social impacts that can sometimes be more devastating than the criminal aspects.
Leonard: If we can get out there and do prevention instead of response, that is our preference. We have a brochure that we hand out. It will need to be updated, but we like to get that out to our parents to help them understand and educate young people.
CP: What else should juveniles know about sexting?
Fritz: The social aspects may be more damning than legal. Be cautious of becoming friends with people you don’t know in person. You don’t really know if that’s a “new girl in town” or some man trying to get images.
Rimmer: One of the things that I stress to the kids when we do this program is that they should have no secrets. I encourage parents to take an active roll in your kids’ social media lives. Find out what they are posting and what they are receiving.
Leonard: Predators love these types of sites and that children will share these materials. We have had several cases of individuals in Craig reaching out to people under age 18 to try and lure them to send images and even meet with them. We would like to educate to prevent that from happening. Once they are lured out, the possibilities take a whole different turn.
CP: What else should adults know about sexting?
Fritz: They need to be involved in their kids’ social media lives and willing to have the tough conversations about what is, and is not, appropriate.
Leonard: Adults are the first line of defense.
CP: Anything else readers should know about this topic?
Fritz: That we expect additional education materials out soon and next school year will provide new materials on the new law.
Leonard: We have had parents do the right thing, and that has helped us immensely in catching things. In one case, we were able to set up an operation to catch a predator because a mom helped. Had it not been for the mom, we probably would have been investigating a sex assault.
Rimmer: If you have questions or concerns regarding the topic or you think your child has been a victim, please contact us by calling 970-826-2360
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.