The advent of social media and smartphone technology has us more connected than ever. Unfortunately, technological advances often come with a dark side. Sexting and Cyberbullying are not just trendy terms for activities teens are engaging in… they are CRIMES. Both can lead to devastating consequences for the victim as well as the offender. Educate yourself and your children NOW before it’s too late!
“Cyberbullying” (R.S. 14:40.7) is defined as sending any type of electronic communication with the malicious intent to coerce, abuse, torment or intimidate someone under the age of 18. This can be in the form of phone calls, text messages, photos, videos, or even social media posts. Simply put, it is the act of “bullying” using an electronic device. Offenders could be sentenced to up to 6 months in prison, or fined $500, or both. When cyberbullying occurs at school, at a school function, or on the bus to school, the offender could face suspension or expulsion. Victims should report all instances of cyberbullying directly to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office. A cyberbullying investigation can also lead to other charges:
- Cyberstalking (R.S.14:40.3) – A person can be charged with this for repeated communication to threaten, terrify or harrass another person, OR knowingly allow another person to use your device to commit to the crime.
- Online Impersonation – (R.S. 14:73.10) – This charge applies if the offender impersonates someone else online with the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud. This would apply to creating an email, website, or social networking account in someone else’s name or simply posting, texting, or otherwise transmitting a message pretending to be someone else. If convicted as an adult, this crime carries a mandatory fine and prison time. Penalties can range from 10 days to six months in prison and a fine of $250 to $1,000.
- Defamation (R.S. 14:47) – This charge is applied when someone expresses or transmits in any way a malicious message about the victim to someone else. This can include anything that would expose the victim hatred, ridicule, or contempt, or anything that would injure a person, business or association with others in their business. This charge carries a sentence of up to six months in prison, or a fine up to $500, or both.
The sexting law in Louisiana (R.S. 14:81.1.1) prohibits anyone younger than 17 from knowingly and voluntarily using a computer, cell phone, or other telecommunications device to transmit indecent images they take of themselves. It’s also a crime for anyone under 17 to possess or transmit an indecent image that was sent to them by any other person under 17 who took the image of himself or herself. So, it doesn’t matter whether you are sending or receiving the photo, or simply possess it, it’s still a crime. Any student caught sexting at school, on the way to school, or at a school function could be suspended or expelled. Anyone caught sexting, whether a juvenile or an adult, could also face other charges which carry more significant penalties.
- Indecent Behavior with Juveniles (R.S. 14:81) – If anyone, adult or juvenile, engages in the act of sexting with a juvenile, and the age difference is greater than 2 years, this charge would also apply.
- Pornography Involving Juveniles (R.S. 14:81.1) – This law makes it illegal to possess, produce, distribute or promote images or videos of juveniles engaged in any kind of sexual conduct. Most sexting crimes have the potential to fall into this category due to how “sexual conduct” is defined in this statute. While the definition includes obvious sexual acts, it also includes the lewd exhibition of genitals, which at the very least, could be considered in any sexting crimes.
What should I do?
If your child or another child you know is a victim of cyberbullying, sexting or child pornography, report it immediately to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office. If your child is a victim of any kind of bullying by other students during school, school functions, or while traveling to school, report it immediately to school officials.
Tips for parents
The most important tip for parents is to get involved in the lives of your children. Take an active interest in what they are doing online, on their phones, and on social media. Above all, talk to your children to ensure they understand the consequences of engaging in these activities.
- Become computer literate yourself!
- Set any household computers in plain sight and check internet history.
- Enforce and establish rules, including a time limit.
- Know your child(ren)’s friends.
- Safeguard all passwords and maintain access to your child(ren)’s devices and accounts. Randomly check your child(ren)’s email.
- Be wary of posting family photos.
- Use software to filter websites.
- Speak truthfully and frankly about the dangers of solicitation and pornography.
- Instruct your children:
- never arrange a face-to-face meeting.
- never upload photos of themselves online to people they don’t know.
- never give out identifying information.
- never download pictures from an unknown source.
- never respond to suggestive messages.
- not everything you’re told online is true.