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New Law Makes Sexting a Minor Illegal

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CLARKSBURG -

Smart phones are in the hands of almost everyone now. But some of the programs and features that are available could put you in jail, if used in a way that violates the law. 

Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Shaffer said that sending sexually explicit material of a minor or to a minor has been illegal for years.

But legislatures sought to improve that law, finding that "sexually explicit" was too vague.

Shaffer said a new law that goes into effect on July 1 will make it a felony to send a nude photo of a minor through any medium, including social media sites, cell phones, and email.  Shaffer said this includes a minor sending a photo to another minor, a minor to an adult, an adult to a minor, or an adult to an adult. 

"Nudity. Any nude photograph of a child or of an adult sent to a child. Any nude photo of an adult to a child, or a child to a child. Or either one sent to an adult," said Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Shaffer.

According to Shaffer, a person found guilty of this charge could spend one to five years in prison on the first offense, and up to 10 years for a second offense.

Shaffer said not all teenagers will be slammed with a felony charge though.

"We bring that child in and offer that child a diversionary program. It's an educational program that would assist that child in understanding what the repercussions are," Shaffer said.

Shaffer said that program is a one-time shot. If a minor is caught again, felony charges are filed. 

While a minor generally characterizes a high school student, Shaffer pointed out that not all high schoolers are minors.

"The biggest loser in this case would be an 18 or 19-year-old high school senior because they are an adult under the statute, and could be charged with a felony, even if they are sending sexually explicit material to a 17-year-old," Shaffer said.

New applications like Snapchat lead smart phone users to believe that photographs and videos sent through the application are trace-free.  But that's not entirely true.  Users can screen shot photos or save the images by capturing the picture with another photo device.

According to Shaffer, wiping or erasing photographs from another person's cell phone or laptop is not currently available. 

"It's going to effect their future. Once you take a photograph and send it out. It is out there forever, regardless of what program you use, whether you tell someone to delete it. It's going to be there forever and it could possibly ruin their life," Shaffer said. 

Shaffer encouraged parents to check their child's cell phone and computer to ensure they aren't engaging in such risky behaviors.