Kent Co. authorities cracking down on ‘sexting’ with new program

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – Authorities in Kent County are cracking down on ‘sexting’ amongst teenagers, but doing so without bringing forth criminal charges against those involved.

Internet safety advocate Chris McKenna travels from school to school teaching parents and kids about the dangers tied to technology. He said the problem of “sexting” has only gotten worse.

“You talk to any junior high principal across the country right now. It’s the number one middle school issue that they deal with. Is middle school sexting,” McKenna said.

Last year, five middle school students in Rockford were suspended after they took half-naked photos of themselves and sent them to other students.

In 2014, three Grandville High School students were charged criminally after sexually explicit pictures of two minors were taken and then shared over social media.

But most cases never make headlines, or make it to the prosecutor’s door.

“We haven’t charged in many of these cases because most of the time, or a lot of the times, we’ve had sharing (photos) amongst a bunch of 13-year-olds,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker explained. “Well who do you charge? And they’re sharing pictures of themselves.”

Becker said it continued to be a big problem.

“So that was a situation we’re finding ourselves in,” he continued. “We figured, well, this is a big enough problem, we need to do something more.”

Now, he believes that authorities have found a solution.

Kids who get in trouble for sexting in Kent County will now be required to take a class. It is an interactive, four-hour-long online webinar teaching them about the dangers involved.

If teens complete the course, prosecutors will not file criminal charges or require a court appearance.

“We want to educate them. We want to stop them from doing it in the future, and I think this is the best way to do that to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Becker said.

McKenna also liked the idea.

“I think it’s a great idea. Because I think it finally gives law enforcement some teeth to a law that has been almost impossible to enforce,” McKenna added.

Becker noted that the prosecutor’s office will review the sexting reports on a case-by-case basis.

If there is clear force or coercion involved in the sexting, Becker said criminal charges could still be on the table.

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