Cops investigate reports of Rochester students sexting

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Rochester Hills — An investigation into "sexting" of photographs between at least 31 teenagers in Rochester Community Schools is expected to take at least two more weeks, an Oakland County Sheriff's captain said Thursday.

Meanwhile, an attorney for a Rochester Hills student and another involved in a similar investigation in Romeo schools, said the activity is much more widespread and she has heard the number is likely double that under investigation.

Attorney Shannon Smith said Michigan State Police are investigating reports of about 10 incidents in the Romeo school system unrelated to the Rochester cases.

"This is happening everywhere, it's over the top," Smith said. "I have been contacted by schools and parents elsewhere in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties who have found similar photos on their children's cellphones and want to know what to do about it.

"Some school systems are trying to keep it quiet."

Smith said several school systems, including Rochester, have instructed students that the activity is illegal and dangerous.

"The thing is, this might start out as a completely innocent but misguided event between kids — someone taking a selfie of themselves without clothes and sending it to someone else," she said. "But the consequences of this can be very severe."

Smith said consenting adults — those 17 or older — can legally send such photos to each other but a 17-year-old involved with a younger person could be prosecuted as an adult with a child pornography felony designed for child predators that carries up to 20 years in prison. There is no age of consent for juveniles.

"Even if they are petitioned as juveniles, there can be serious consequences," she said. "It can go on their permanent record. I've had student clients who have been unable to get student housing later in college because they have it on their record."

Capt. Michael Johnson of the Rochester Hills substation said cell phones confiscated from suspected students — 24 girls and 7 boys, ages 14 to 16 — have been turned over to the department's computer crimes section for forensic review to determine who sent photos, who was photographed, who received them and if they were shared with others.

The photos involve portions of naked bodies, Johnson said. Some photographs were sent anonymously to others. Some include faces, but faces are obscured in other photos.

The photos are frequently circulated among other students.

"In mid-September one student heard others talking about photos they had received or sent on their phones," Johnson said. "It was reported to school officials and then to one of our school liaison officers who began an investigation."

The majority of the teens attend Rochester Adams High School and at least one is enrolled at Van Hoosen Middle School, Johnson said.

Debra Hartman, a spokeswoman for Rochester Community schools, deferred all questions to the sheriff's office.

"This is a sheriff's department investigation and we will wait for their findings before anything is discussed regarding students," said Hartman, who said none of the students suspected of activity has been disciplined or suspended.

Smith noted damage from the activity can extend beyond explicit photographs being shared between juveniles.

"It may be a sign of the times that young people discovering their sexuality feel it's all right to share photos of themselves, but it's not," she said. "In some cases, this has led to fights and bullying. Students calling others sluts for putting out such photographs of themselves.

"Its pretty wild and it's a mess."

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