LOCAL teenagers who have been ‘sexting’ intimate photos of themselves or others are putting themselves in danger and could face criminal prosecution for child pornography.
Now gardaí have written to principals of second level schools in South Kildare warning of the dangers of sexting and the impact it can have on young people.
Follow-up visits by gardaí to local schools are planned to talk to students about the dangers of such practices.
“We are very concerned that it is happening because of the potential consequences for the person who sends the image and for the person who receives it,” said Inspector Mel Smyth from the Kildare Garda District.
“Indecent images of children aged 17 and under are deemed to be child pornography and it is a criminal offence, to possess, receive or retain such an image, which carries a jail sentence of up to five years,” he said. “A person who sends such an image to another can be prosecuted for the offence of sharing or distributing child pornography.”
He said they were also concerned that there are psychological as well as legal implications for teenagers who are sending these images to each other while sexting.
“Teenagers generally tend to send these images to a boyfriend or a girlfriend but they don’t realise that once they send an image to someone else they have lost control of it and the risk is that the images may be shared with others in a private capacity or on social media.
“There have been situations where these images are posted on social media and are used to cause embarrassment as a source of bullying. There are obvious serious psychological and emotional implications for the person whose image is shared,” said Inspector Smyth.
He said students who are found to be sending indecent images of others are generally dealt with under the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme.
“If they are dealt with under the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme they wouldn’t have a criminal record. However, if the person is over 18 they will be dealt with by the criminal justice system and that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
“Possessing child pornography is a sexual offence and conviction in court for an offence under the Sexual Offences Act will lead to a person being placed on the Sex Offences Register and this will have an impact on work and travel as well as an emotional impact.”
Inspector Smythe said gardaí felt compelled to liaise with schools because of how images can be used by one student against another.
“Images sent during a relationship between teenagers during a relationship can be used for the purpose of blackmail after a relationship breaks in an effort to renew a relationship. During their time in secondary school teens are taught the SPHE (Social Personal and Health Education) programme and we have asked schools to consider addressing this issue through this programme. We also feel that it is something that parents need to be talking with their children about and teaching them that sending these images is wrong in every sense and can lead to huge implications for the emotional wellbeing of teenagers.
“Teenagers would be aware of celebrity Jennifer Lawrence who has had nude images of her posted online and what we are saying to teenagers is that if it can happen to her then it can happen to you,” the inspector added.