Teens learn about cyber security, bullying

Bloomfield students learn about dangers of sending, receiving nude or semi-nude images of themselves or classmates

Hannah Grover
Patrick Stewart, outreach program adviser with the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, gives a presentation on cyber security Thursday at McGee Park.
  • Two dozen Bloomfield High School students heard a presentation Thursday at McGee Park.
  • Officials warn that images are almost impossible to delete after they have been sent via text.
  • A local detective says cases of teenagers texting inappropriate photos to each other is not uncommon.

FARMINGTON — Approximately 4 percent of teenagers between ages 12 and 17 who own a cellphone say they have sent a sexually suggestive image to other people via a text message, according to numbers provided to Bloomfield High School students during a presentation earlier this week by an outreach program adviser for the state Office of the Attorney General.

That is a problem for teenagers because it can affect their reputation and could possibly lead to criminal charges, according to Patrick Stewart, the outreach program adviser. Stewart met with about two dozen Bloomfield High School students Thursday at McGee Park.

While only 4 percent of the teens reported having sent the images, about 15 percent of cell phone-owning teenagers say they have received text messages containing sexually explicit or suggestive images, according to Stewart's presentation.

Office of the Attorney General spokesman James Hallinan said there was a change in law last year that provides teenagers with some protection from child pornography charges if the teenager has voluntarily produced the image and allowed for another teenager to receive it.

“The change that was made to the law last year is extremely dangerous because our children should never be incentivized to take and distribute graphic, sexual images of themselves," Hallinan said. "While a teenager who takes and sends a sexual image of themselves cannot be charged with a crime under New Mexico law, they face the grave consequence of the image being shared by others and that image existing in perpetuity on the Internet. Additionally, the teenager is, in fact, violating federal law, and, as such, could face prosecution by federal officials.”

Blomfield High School teacher Janice Snell is part of a crowd listening to a presentation on cyber security Thursday at McGee Park in Farmington.

Bree Parish, a senior at Bloomfield High School, said she learned a lot from the presentation. She said information and images spread fast online.

"You can't really delete anything," she said.

When reached by phone Friday, San Juan County Sheriff's Office Detective Lt. Kyle Lincoln said cases of teenagers texting nude or semi-nude photos to each other is not uncommon. He said parents sometimes call authorities after finding such images on a teen's cell phone. On other occasions, a teenager may send an image to his or her boyfriend or girlfriend, and when they break up, the image is shared as revenge porn.

Lincoln echoed Stewart's warning that images of minors can lead to child pornography charges.

He said teenagers should think about their parents when making decisions.

"If you can do it in front of your parents, it's probably OK to do," he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.