What is the proper course of action? Should you delete the message? Save it to show to police? Drop the phone and kick it away from you?
The situation gave St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor pause as he considered the possibilities. The best thing to do, he decided, is to delete the picture and message if the picture is of adults.
“If it is child pornography, or if you continually receive unwanted texts of a sexual nature, then you can go to your local law enforcement agency (police or sheriff’s department),” he said. “Once you give the information to law enforcement officials, they can try to locate the source of the unwanted pictures.”
It’s a problem that is just coming to the attention of local authorities.
“This is the first anonymous text that I know of involving a person receiving a pornographic-type picture from someone they didn’t know,” Minor said. “Most of the time, the message (or picture) is from someone the person knows.”
Like Minor, St. Clair County Sheriff’s Investigator Bart Lonergan said the anonymous pornographic text message was the first such case reported to him.
“Most of the time when we find pornographic images or material on a phone, it was sent by someone the owner of the phone knew,” he said.
Lonergan also agreed with Minor in that the best course of action is to delete any unwanted adult pictures.
“The frequency of the messages sent are also a factor,” he said. “It can be a form of harassing communications, a Class C misdemeanor.”
St. Clair County Sheriff’s Investigator George Bagwell was more familiar with the problem, but he said he had seen fewer than five cases in the past couple of years of pornographic pictures of adults sent to individuals from someone they didn’t know.
“It is not a common thing reported,” he said.
Bagwell said if the person receiving the image cannot easily determine if the picture is of adults or children, the sheriff’s department can look at it on a case-by-case basis.
“If it is a child, we will get the Internet Crimes Against Children unit involved,” he said.
Bagwell said there are several ICAC teams across the state who can try to backtrack the phone numbers to find the originator of the obscene material.
“It can be difficult to trace,” he said.
Bagwell said another issue that has become less frequent is “sexting.”
“Sexting is a huge problem, but we have seen less of that recently,” he said.
Bagwell said “sexting” is when teenagers (minors) take sexual pictures of themselves and send the pictures to other teens or adults.
“A lot of them didn’t realize that by taking the picture they are producing child pornography, and by sending it they are distributing child pornography,” he said.
Bagwell said educational programs were implemented in local schools, and are ongoing.
“Hopefully the school education programs are getting through to the kids (on the seriousness of sexting),” he said.