Police charge 5 Stonington High boys with disseminating sexual images of classmates

Stonington — Police say they have charged five male students at Stonington High School with disseminating doctored and actual sexual images of some female classmates to other students last month.

Police did not release the names of the students, who have been referred to juvenile authorities, because they are considered minors under state law. They were each charged with unlawful dissemination of an intimate image, a class A misdemeanor. The outcome of their cases will be unavailable to the public because they are minors.

Superintendent of Schools Van Riley has said that a student brought the issue to the attention of a teacher and the school administration late last month. Police then interviewed 10 students and took possession of several electronic devices involved in the incident, before charging the five. Capt. Todd Olson said Wednesday that the investigation is now complete.

As police began their probe, High School Principal Mark Friese sent a letter to parents saying the incident involved “sexting” — which involves the “sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs or images, primarily between mobile phones” — at the school. He said students would be disciplined but could not detail what will happen to those students.

State statutes say that a person is guilty of unlawful dissemination of an intimate image when a person intentionally disseminates by electronic or other means a photograph, film, videotape or other recorded image of the genitals, pubic area, buttocks of another person or uncovered female breast or another person engaged in sexual intercourse, without their consent and the person depicted in the image suffers harm as a result of the dissemination. Disseminate means to “sell, give, provide, lend, trade, mail, deliver, transfer, publish, distribute, circulate, present, exhibit, advertise or otherwise offer” the images.

Olson said Wednesday that young people need to be aware that although such images may seem “funny or silly” at the time, sending them back and forth can turn into “a real nightmare” for them.

“Sending or possessing these images can get them in trouble not just with their school but with law enforcement,” he said. “What seemed like a joke has now turned into a situation where you are part of a crime.”

“And it’s unfortunate that they did not think of the innocent victim and the damage they have done to that person’s reputation,” he said.

Olson said that if students receive such an image on their phone or computer, they should tell a parent, teacher, school administrator or other adult who then can decide how to proceed. They should not send it to anyone else.

“If you send it to someone, you’ve become part of the problem,” Olson said.

Police and school officials in other southeastern Connecticut towns have not recently reported any similar incidents.

In Groton, Superintendent of Schools Michael Graner said that in his four years heading the school system, he did not recall a case of a student coming forward to report the distribution of inappropriate sexual images.

If it did come up, he said, it would be covered through the district’s policies on cyberbullying and sexual harassment. He said disciplinary actions might include detention, suspension or expulsion and such threats would be reported to the police.

The Fitch High School student handbook also prohibits “posting or distributing libelous, obscene, or defamatory materials or literature.”

Groton Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin encouraged any student who knows of inappropriate material being distributed to approach a guidance counselor, teacher he or she feels comfortable with or the principal, and the incident would be investigated.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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