MY CHILD GOT CHARGED WITH WHAT?

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“THE DANGERS OF EASY ACCESS PORNOGRAPHY”

Today, more than ever, children and teenagers have easy access to many types of pornography. With just a click or two on their phone, a young adult or child can be exposed to videos or images they are not yet equipped to understand or prepared to see. More importantly, they likely do not understand the consequences of what they may be doing. The problem is much larger than most parents realize.

Looking at pornography on the internet is a big problem but according to John Hayes, an attorney with VTH Law in Grand Haven, Michigan, looking at pornography is only part of the problem. “Every parent has a conversation with their kids about pornography these days because it is so accessible, but the conversation that most parents are neglecting is the potential criminal liability their child may be exposed to. What parents need to know is that if their child is viewing images/videos that can be interpreted as child pornography they could be charged as a juvenile with possession of child pornography even though they are a child themselves. This can be as innocent as viewing a nude picture of what appears to be someone underage or a video that is sexual in nature, it does not even have to be a sex act. Often these images are downloaded to the device without your child’s knowledge; that’s possession of child pornography, a FELONY in the State of Michigan.”

This could be as seemingly innocent as your 14-year-old looking at a nude picture or pictures of a sexual nature of someone who appears to be a minor. The fact that the image being viewed may appear to be a minor older than your child, or of a similar age, does not matter. As long as the image appears to be a minor, there is potential serious criminal liability.

What happens then if the child thinks it is cool and transfers the image/video/link to a friend, that is potentially “Distribution of Child Pornography” which is an even more serious felony than possession. And that friend who received the image/video/link, which could be your kid, is now potentially liable for possession of child pornography.

HOW DO KIDS GET CAUGHT?

Understand that many of the services we all use have continual monitoring for child pornography which is good to help catch those producing child pornography and also in preventing the use and dissemination of it. All of that activity can be traced back to the devices uploading, downloading, viewing or sharing this information. BAM! That could be your child’s device or yours if they are using it. The information then gets passed onto law enforcement who will then investigate.

THE CONSEQUENCES

“There are extremely good reasons for these laws but they were enacted before every kid had a cell phone in their hand with instant access to the juvenile justice system by way of violating these laws,” says Hayes, “And trust me when I say it is a big deal.” Although, with a first offense, your child is unlikely to serve any kind of jail time due to these violations, any adjudication will be made part of their criminal record as a juvenile and those records are public in the State of Michigan so the information is readily available to anyone.

Consequently, this will follow them the rest of their lives unless they can get the “adjudication” set aside after they turn eighteen. There is no guarantee that will happen as it is up to the Judge. Even if it is set aside, it won’t be done prior to your kid applying for college/employment and just about every application asks about criminal history these days. The disclosure of that information could be determinative of whether or not they get the college or job they want.

THE UNTHINKABLE CONSEQUENCES

Hayes says if you don’t pay attention to anything else in this article, at least pay attention to this….

“So, here are the consequences that probably no parent foresees. These adjudications in the State of Michigan subject your child, unless they are 14 years old or under, to the Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA). Yes, that means your child has to report themselves to Michigan’s public registry as a Sex Offender, possibly for life. Even if the adjudication is set aside in Michigan but they move to another state, some states have mandatory reporting to their sex offender registry regardless of the fact that the adjudication was set aside. That could limit where they go to college. Also, some states don’t have the exception for those 14 years or under. That means your 12-year-old could be required to report as a Sex Offender if you move to another state. This could follow them the rest of their lives. This can restrict where they live, where they work. It could even prevent them, later in life, from being involved in their own kid’s school activities.”

THE DANGERS OF SEXTING

Sexting is becoming extremely popular among underage teenagers. Boyfriends and girlfriends often take nude pictures of themselves and text the picture to their significant other. If the significant other sends the picture on to another friend, they can be subject to child pornography possession and distribution charges. “Kids simply don’t understand the consequences of taking pictures or videos and distributing them. They often believe that they are harmless, but, as you can see, that is not the case,” Hayes said.

APPS DON’T ALWAYS WORK

There are apps that can be downloaded or safe blocks on devices that attempt to block or limit this type of content but kids are often more tech savvy than we think and find their way around these services. So, don’t rely on them alone.

SO, WHAT’S THE ANSWER,

HOW CAN I PROTECT MY CHILD?

Have an open conversation and dialogue with your child sooner rather than later. As we all know, the best way to protect our child is with knowledge. Make sure they understand the consequences. “It is often a very uncomfortable conversation to have with your child, but the truth is it’s better to have that conversation with your child than having an alternative conversation with a police officer or prosecutor. Every parent’s nightmare is opening their front door and having a police officer standing there, asking tough questions,” Hayes said. “Obviously, you want to have age appropriate conversations about these issue with your child starting as soon as there is the potential for your child to engage in this type of activity. And it will be an age appropriate conversation you will need to continue to have with your child as they get older and their understanding and potential for activity progresses.”

If it does happen, protect your child. Immediately contact an experienced attorney before deciding to cooperate with any investigation and do so before law enforcement has a warrant forcing you to comply.

Keep in mind, the average age a child is first exposed to pornography is 11 years old!

“NOT JUST YOUR MINOR CHILDREN,

TALK WITH YOUR YOUNG ADULT CHILDREN AS WELL”

“It could be your 18-year-old with a sexting picture of their 16-year-old significant other.” Says Hayes, “Potentially, that’s all it takes.” So, it is never too late to have this conversation with your child, even if they are an adult. As an adult, the consequences are even more severe as the conduct is more likely to result in jail time and possible lifetime sex offender registry requirements.

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