There's an epidemic hitting Marysville schools and it is spread by cellphone.

There's an epidemic hitting Marysville schools and it is spread by cellphone.

"For some reason, for the last two or two-and-a-half years, we have seen an increase in the amount of what legally would be called the dissemination of child pornography," said Don McGlenn, a Marysville police sergeant.

"I would say (there has been) a case a month to deal with," said Melissa Chase, assistant Union County prosecuting attorney.

McGlenn and Chase said students are sending provocative pictures and videos -- a practice commonly referred to as sexting -- via cellphone and parents are not aware or think their child is not involved.

They recently dealt with a case involving seven students, one from the high school and six from the middle school.

McGlenn recently took time to speak with parents at the Marysville High School winter sports meeting and his message was clear: It takes place, whether you know it or not and the consequences are dangerous.

"This is happening student-to-student, peer-to-peer," McGlenn said.

"We are seeing young men, as young as middle school, who are pressuring young ladies into sending provocative pictures of themselves," said McGlenn. "We are seeing videos of actual acts that are going back and forth between students."

He said parents need to be aware of phone apps that allow photographs on the devices to be hidden from general view.

"I go around to the schools and we talk to the kids about this stuff and one of the things that I asked these kids in the school is, 'How many in here think you're smarter with your cellphone than your parents are?' and every hand goes up," said McGlenn.

He said either the parents aren't checking phones or they're checking them, but they don't know what to check for or where to find things.

"The majority of these videos and text and stuff aren't being sent through a general texting app on your (phone)," said McGlenn. "They're using different apps . ... They are messaging with inside apps."

Often, the phone apps look like something else at first glance, but they actually hide photos and videos the owner doesn't want others to see, he said. An online search will provide links large number of similar apps.

McGlenn said when cases such as sexting are reported to the police department, the county prosecutor's office and school officials work together to resolve the issue.

He says once they find out about photos or videos they contact parents and they collect and download the phone's contents.

When McGlenn has to call a parent in to talk to them about what's happened, he says he feels bad because they are typically blindsided.

"I can't imagine the embarrassment level of having to face your parents and explain to them what you've done," McGlenn said.

Evidence is turned over to the prosecutor's office, where Chase said they examine each case individually and typically engage in a diversion program instead of criminal charges.

"We have the kids write an essay, we have them perform a set amount of hours for community service and we actually have an in-face, person-to-person meeting with them to talk about what the law is about, what the danger is in engaging in that type of behavior," Chase said.

"The school is very much in favor of handling it like that."

Chase said usually when the prosecutor's office files any criminal charges it is because there is an adult involved in the equation.

She recalled a case of importuning -- which usually is a felony charge of solicitation of a juvenile between the ages of 13 and 16 by someone 18 or four years older and/or via a telecommunications device -- as well as pandering sexually explicit material and illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

"Usually you don't see that combination," Chase said. "There was an age gap between the alleged perpetrator and the victims of the case. They weren't adults, but there was a fairly significant age gap between them."

McGlenn says the concern for students who get caught up in these situations goes beyond the boundaries of the law.

"Kids who are in middle school and high school ... self-confidence, image, all that stuff is very big to them and the last thing we want to do is see somebody be bullied and blackmailed because they sent a picture out to somebody else and now (the recipient is) using that picture against them," McGlenn said.

"The last thing we want is them to hurt themselves because they are embarrassed to go to school."

McGlenn and Chase said it is time for parents to get educated and get involved.

"I would say the first thing, if I were a parent, is to sit down and talk to your child on a regular basis," Chase said. "It sounds old-fashioned, but honestly, knowing what's going on in their lives and what things are upsetting them is good.

"Also, I am a big proponent of looking at your child's cellphone on a regular basis. As you know there's no way to completely protect your child from this. If you see an application on your child's phone and you don't know what it is, research it."

"If I have to bring you into the office and start showing you pictures and videos from your child's phone, that's a lot more difficult conversation to have than to pick up your child's phone at night and check it," McGlenn said.

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