A Parent’s Guide to a “Sexting” Investigation

Sexting” – “The sending of explicit messages or images by cell phone.”

With the proliferation of cell phones that make it quick and simple to snap and send a picture, “sexting” is becoming an all-too common concern for parents of high school and even middle school students. Schools and law enforcement agencies are investigating these incidents as crimes. Children are being prosecuted, convicted and branded as sex offenders across the nation for literally, a moment of clouded judgment fueled by natural adolescent instincts and curiosity.

The purpose of this post is not to debate the criminalization or social impact of prosecuting children for these offenses. The purpose is not even to discus the specific elements and level of offenses that a teenager can face as a result of various acts related to sexting. It suffices to understand that taking and distributing sexually explicit photographs or video recordings of a minor and distributing it to other minors, even when the creator and distributor is a minor, is a sex crime which can result in sex offender registry requirements and can also amount to a felony in both state and federal courts. The purpose of this post is simply to give parents a guide on how to handle the nightmare of learning that their child is possibly involved in a sexting investigation.

First and foremost, have THE TALK now! Talk to your kids about the severity of the potential charges and the life long implications that their actions may have. The consequences are the same for girls as they are for boys. Also, explain that their smart phone is a computer. This means that any picture taken, saved, sent or deleted from their phone can be recovered with the proper forensic tools. Yes, this includes Snapchat! Just because they can’t see it anymore doesn’t mean it can’t be found. If you don’t want it on a billboard, you don’t snap the picture on your phone. During that talk, make sure your children understand these next three rules.

  1. Shut up! If contacted by school officials or law enforcement, your child is NOT to talk about the suspected incident. Anything they say, can and will be used against them.
  2. Wise Up! Do not consent or agree to your child’s phone being searched or reviewed in any way, shape or form. If law enforcement obtains a warrant, so be it. Don’t voluntarily hand over evidence that may result in your child being branded a sex offender.
  3. Lawyer Up! Don’t wait to retain a lawyer. A qualified criminal defense lawyer will act as a buffer between your child, school officials and the investigating law enforcement agency. Once a person is represented and alerts law enforcement that they are declining to speak without their lawyer present, they cannot be approached and questioned legally about the event.

These basic rules seem relatively straight forward. Sometimes though, the simplest things are the most important but also most difficult to follow through with. This is not a situation or subject to be reactive to. Be proactive and hopefully prevent yourself and your child from being in the situation altogether in the first place.