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Teens who 'sext' racy photos charged with porn
By MARTHA IRVINE AP National Writer

Posted: 02/04/2009 12:46:01 PM MST
Updated: 02/04/2009 01:48:23 PM MST


Teenagers' habit of distributing nude self-portraits electronically—often called "sexting" if it's done by cell phone—has parents and school administrators worried. Some prosecutors have begun charging teens who send and receive such images with child pornography and other serious felonies. But is that the best way to handle it?

"Hopefully we'll get the message out to these kids," says Michael McAlexander, a prosecutor in Allen County, Ind., which includes Fort Wayne. A teenage boy there is facing felony obscenity charges for allegedly sending a photo of his private parts to several female classmates. Another boy was recently charged with child pornography in a similar case.

In some cases, the photos are sent to harass other teens or to get attention. Other times, they're viewed as a high-tech way to flirt. Either way, law enforcement officials want it to stop, even if it means threatening to add "sex offender" to a juvenile's confidential record.

"We don't want to throw these kids in jail," McAlexander says. "But we want them to think."

This month in Greensburg, Pa., three high school girls who sent seminude photos and four male students who received them were all hit with child pornography charges. And in Newark, Ohio, a 15-year-old high school girl faced similar charges for sending her own racy cell phone photos to classmates. She eventually agreed to a curfew, no cell phone and no unsupervised Internet usage over the next few months. If she complies, the charges will be dropped.

In Pennsylvania, all but one of the students accepted a lesser misdemeanor charge, partly to avoid a trial and further embarrassment, a public defender in the case said. The mother of one boy is considering fighting all charges.

Whatever the outcome, the mere fact that child pornography charges were filed at all is stirring debate among students and adults.

At Greensburg-Salem High School in Pennsylvania, junior Jamie Bennish says she's not sure the boys in her school's case should've been charged.

"They did not necessarily choose to receive the pictures, although I find it questionable that they did not delete the photos from their cell phones after some period of time," she says. "As for the girls, there is no excuse for exposing yourself in that way, and any charges they receive they have brought upon themselves."

Dante Bertani, chief public defender in Westmoreland County, Pa., where the students went to court, called the felony charges "horrendous." He says such treatment should be reserved for sex offenders, not teenagers who might've used poor judgment, but meant nothing malicious.

"It should be an issue between the school, the parents and the kids—and primarily the parents and the kids," Bertani says. "It's not something that should be going through the criminal system."

These cases do pose a dilemma, concedes Wes Weaver, the principal at Licking Valley High School, where the Ohio girl attends school.

He agrees that pornography charges or other felonies are not appropriate, noting that "the laws have not caught up to technology."

But he says there has to be some way to educate students and their parents about the harm these photos can do—and the fact that, once they're out there, they often get widely circulated. Days before his staff discovered the girl's nude photos, the county prosecutor had been at the school to warn students against sexting.

"I don't think we're anywhere near having a handle on this," Weaver says. "It's beyond our scope as a school."

Parents are also often at a loss.

Some companies, such as WebSafety Inc., have developed software that parents can use to monitor certain activity on cell phones and computers. They can, for instance, block X-rated texting terms or be alerted when their child is using them, says Mike Adler, the company's CEO.

Photos are trickier, though, and often require a parent to manually check a child's phone.

And that's OK to do, says Dr. Terri Randall, an adolescent psychiatrist in Philadelphia.

"It could be part of the contract of having a cell phone, that you really don't get 100 percent privacy. It's just one more way of keeping track, like knowing what your kid is doing and where they are," says Randall, who's also an instructor at Jefferson Medical College.

Randall says she's seeing more issues related to sexting, especially as cell phones with cameras have become standard. One mother brought her daughter in to be psychologically evaluated after finding provocative cell phone photos of the girl.

Other patients tell Randall how sexting and texting explicit messages has caused relationship problems, especially after a breakup, when photos might be distributed out of spite, for instance.

So she reminds her young patients: "Even though it seems like fun and so exciting right now, that person may not always feel the same way about you. And you may not feel the same way about that person either."

But is it porn? That's questionable, she and others say.

Certainly, technology makes it easier to do and say things we might not do in person, says Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher with the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"But ultimately," she says, "I think this is merely another case of technology extending an activity or action that young people have engaged in for years, if not beyond that."

———

Martha Irvine is an AP national writer. She can be reached at mirvine(at)ap.org or via http://myspace.com/irvineap
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Roadie
Poses an interesting problem. My question on whether they should be charged or not is this...what is the differerence between what they do and a 55 year old pervert that deals in child porn? The teen agers are underage as are those subject to child porn. Should the teen agers not be charged with some kind of an offense for dealing in what could be considered child porn?

But here is a bigger question. In an attempt to deal with teen agers that are sending nude pictures on their cell phone, are the cell phone companies going to start checking ALL pictures sent thru cell phones? Or worse, in an attempt to catch and prosecute those teens, is the government going to get involved?

If either cell phone companies or the government start checking cell phone pictures, Dreamer and I are in a whole heap of trouble!!! I have lots of pictures of her, and of me, nude. We send them back and forth all the time. And when we have used them a few times, we take more. We use them as foreplay while I'm at work and are looking for excitement later on. This could get interesting!
Lovin My Wife...Lovin Life

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Well, I think the main issue is underage porn and sexual predators do usually start young. The sad thing is so many young girls are passing around their pictures on the net to get attention so its like a vicious circle. It's a shame how screwed up kids here are.
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Adriana
^ Screwed up? It's natural to explore sex and picture taking is a part of that.

Now, I agree these pictures can wind up in the wrong hands and engaging in this risky behaviour in general may leave them open to sexual predators but, on the other hand, making something like that a felony seems a bit of a stretch. That's something you ground your kid for. I agree it should be between parent and child, for the most part. In this case, I think it's okay for a parent to do some snooping through their child's cell phone - especially if the parent is footing the bill (the phone belongs to the parent) but I would hope things like this do not become an area where we all face concerns regarding privacy as Roadie suggests.
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Rosy Glow
Well anything and everything that goes through our mobile phones is logged. However, there are constitutions in place to protect us from this becoming public record! (At least that's what we thought) I think the real issue here is kiddie porn and not so much privacy acts. (we gave that up long ago) It is illegal to posess photos of naked minors. Minors in possession of photos of naked minors is no different than adults in possession. So would we wrap an adult on the wrist and take thier mobile phones away or do we have entire tv shows dedicated to "catching the predators"? 

And hey Roadie - it's NOT illegal for adults to have photos of naked adults!
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Hank Alvarez
As a retired teacher, I thank God that I was only in on the age of the pain in the ass pagers. The kids didn't have the discipline to shut them off before class, the district regulated against them but the administrators didn't have the balls to enforce the school's regulations. KIDS DON'T NEED CELL PHONES OR OTHER ELECTRONIC DISTRACTIONS AT SCHOOL. We created a nightmare for the educators and a hindrance for our children. The teachers were expected to enforce the school rules and take them away from the little darlings went they went off in class. Most didn't but I did. I'd give them to the administrators and the parents would have to come get them. Instead of being pissed at their kids they took it out on the teachers and administrators. The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. I can only imagine what teachers are going through now with the advanced phones the kids have available to them. I still teach adults in the evening part time and some of them occasionally forget to turn them off. What else they're doing with them I can only guess but at least they're a little more mature. Hank
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Roadie
Rosy...you're right...it's not illegal for adults to have naked pictures of adults. My point is this...is my right to send, receive and save those pictures being scrutinized by the holders of my cell phone license? All in the name of looking for child porn? Does every time my cell number appear on a little screen at the cell phone company tell them I am an adult and can send and receive anything I want because I am an adult?

And you are aware, that almost without exception, all cell phone companies keep and store all texts for a minimum of three days? What happens to them in those three days? Are they being passed around the office? Personaly, I could give a crap what they want to look at and what they want to do with them. I hope they get their jollies that way. But, as far as I'm concerned, that is no less an invasion of my privacy then some yo-yo peeping in my windows at Dreamer sitting around the house half naked! I happen to think Orwell was right...Big Brother IS watching!
Lovin My Wife...Lovin Life

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