Six Grant County teens charged after sexting scandal

Posted at 9:05 PM, May 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-17 00:50:31-04

DRY RIDGE, Ky. -- There are plenty of moral reasons teenagers shouldn't be sharing nude photos of their friends and classmates online: It's an enormous invasion of privacy, for one thing, and it opens the person in the picture up to bullying and harassment.

If that's not enough, here's a legal reason: It's a felony.

Distributing child pornography in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky can earn the distributor years of punishment -- and there's no legal exception in cases where the distributor is a child themselves.

A group of Grant County middle and high school students recently learned this the hard way, according to Sheriff Chuck Dills. After one classmate complained to teachers about a nude photo-sharing ring at the school, authorities discovered nearly 140 separate images that had been circulated among a group of 10 students.

Six of those students were charged and could face serious legal repercussions for possessing and sharing the photos. Dills said he doesn't plan to charge them with felonies, but they have been transferred into the care of court-designated juvenile workers.

"The problem you deal with is the seriousness of it because they're underage," Dills said. "They're good kids that are doing it. These aren't kids that have been in trouble; they don't realize the seriousness of it."

According to Dills, the harm caused by sharing photos like these isn't limited to social backlash; his department has also seen cases in which child predators posing as teenagers solicited nude photos from real teens.

He recommends that parents stay aware of the tricks children can use to hide unsavory content on their phones, including special apps meant to disguise photo albums or web browsers as ordinary things. A cursory search on the Apple Store reveals high-rated apps including Calculator+, Calculator Vault and Keep Safe Photo Vault that hide photo albums behind the mask of the iPhone's built-in calculator.

"Our message to parents is, ‘Monitor what your children are doing, check their social media accounts, check their phones,'" Dills said.

In an increasingly online world, even adults gets themselves into trouble over non-worksafe photos, whether it's celebrities exposed to embarrassment when hackers steal private pictures, politicians sending unwanted "memos" or Marines discharged for circulating nude photos of servicewomen in their units.

The earlier children learn to set their own boundaries and respect those of others, the less likely it is they'll grow up to be their generator's Anthony Weiner.