Teen sentenced for indecent photos

Images on phone went from WhatsApp to Instagram

A teenage male has been ordered to perform 150 hours of community service and pay $1,000 compensation or serve three months in prison after pleading guilty to distributing or showing to another person seven indecent images of a child via WhatsApp (messaging service). 

Magistrate Grace Donalds also ordered the destruction of the indecent material and said in Summary Court on Thursday that she would apply a section of the Alternative Sentencing Law so that no conviction would be recorded against the defendant. 

The Penal Code defines child as a person under the age of 17, for offenses relating to children. 

Crown counsel Laura Manson said the defendant, 17, admitted having the photos on his phone and sending them to another person during a text conversation about what had happened after the Batabano carnival on May 3. Sending the photos was distribution, Ms. Manson explained.  

Defense attorney Prathna Bodden emphasized that the defendant had given the photos to one friend, that he himself did not put them on Instagram (an online image-sharing site). 

The girl in the photos had been drinking and there came a point where she left a bar with some boys from her school and collapsed. Later, she could not remember anything, according to the Crown’s summary. 

The girl went to school two days later and felt that everyone was looking at her. She heard rumors that everyone had seen photos of her naked and drunk, Ms. Manson said. 

Ms. Manson said one of the seven photos showed a sexual assault taking place. However, the male assailant could was not identifiable in the photo. 

She noted that distributing or showing an indecent photograph of a child is a new offense in Cayman’s Penal Code (revised in 2013), and there was only one other local case she was aware of. The maximum sentence in Cayman is 15 years, which is for the worst possible offense by the worst offender. She cited sentencing guidelines from the U.K., where the maximum is 10 years, and indicated that the offending in the case now before the court did not fall into the highest categories of seriousness. The U.K. sentence would have a starting point of 13 weeks imprisonment, with a range between community service and 26 weeks. 

In this case, there were several aggravating features, Ms. Manson said. When the teen’s phone was seized, it could not be analyzed because the defendant would not give his password and no memory card was in it. The evidence came largely from the phone of another boy; it showed the message coming from the defendant’s phone. 

Also, the girl in the photos was known to the defendant; they went to school together. Photos showed she was clearly unconscious. 

In mitigation, she noted the teen’s guilty plea and the fact that he was 17 at the time of the offense; in terms of the law, he had just become an adult.  

Ms. Manson spoke of the impact on the girl’s family and the girl herself. Her parents said it was a terrible incident that had turned their world upside down. They didn’t have a normal family life anymore and the girl was in a boarding school overseas. They missed her and she missed them and her sibling. She distrusted everyone she had thought was a friend and felt she could no longer show her face on the island. 

It would be wrong to say the defendant was solely responsible for what had happened, Ms. Manson agreed, but she asked for some compensation, given the financial difficulties involved in sending the girl away. 

Ms. Bodden spoke of the effect on the defendant. She said he and his family were very sorry for his actions. She said he did not understand the impact of the photos when he gave them to one friend. When asked how his victim would feel, he used words like embarrassed, afraid to see people, ashamed. He indicated he wasn’t thinking of her when he sent the pictures to his close friend, adding “I never intended to hurt her.” 

Ms. Bodden described the offending behavior as immature and without forethought. If the incident had happened six months earlier, he would not have been a legal adult, she noted; the matter would have been dealt with in the Youth Court. 

The defendant was “invited to leave school” after the incident; he tried another school and was asked to leave there after a few days. He has been out of school since. 

“His punishment started from the day he was arrested – taken out of school in handcuffs. He has become a social recluse… isolated from friends,” she said. He now intends to leave Cayman because he feels he could never have a future here. Ms. Bodden shared numerous references and asked Magistrate Donalds to consider the social inquiry report’s recommendation for community service. She submitted a time sheet showing hours he had volunteered at a local charity. 

In passing sentence, the magistrate said she accepted that the defendant acted as he did through immaturity and lack of a sense of responsibility. She considered it an aggravating factor that he had failed to cooperate with authorities investigating the matter. This was counterbalanced by his age, lack of previous convictions and previous good character. 

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