Some teenagers — and even adults – are discovering that “sexting,” sending nude images by phone or computer, can quickly escalate from a private communication to wide distribution on the Internet.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira warned Tuesday that what some may regard as harmless fun or flirtation often backfires on the participants. In some cases — including two that recently passed through her office — creating and/or disseminating the images rises to the level of a crime.
More often, she said, the images of young people are soon available to classmates and result in embarrassment and humiliation.
Sira said she recently prosecuted a 16-year-old boy who took and disseminated videos of two younger girls, both nude and acting out love scenes. In a second case, she said, an older teenage boy received a nude image from a younger girl and widely distributed it. Both boys were charged with felonies. One case is pending, the other resulted in a sealed youthful offender plea to a misdemeanor.
Depending on the circumstances and the ages of participants, Sira said, an apparent prank becomes a crime. The charges, she said, are often promoting a sexual performance by a child and/or possessing a sexual performance by a child.
Sira said her office has received about a dozen complaints in the past year.
“I don’t think anyone [willing to take and send a nude image] is considering the long-term consequences, including where those photos can end up,” Sira said.
“The message we need to convey to our kids is that the computer is not a private means of communication. . . . When messages are sent by computer, the lines between public and private are blurred,” Sira said.
Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III recalled a 2007 case in which a group of boys not only distributed an image a 15-year-old girl sent to one of them, but they also had a contest to see who could use the image most creatively. What resulted were animations, various distortions and transformations, PowerPoint presentations and an animated video.
The younger boys were petitioned to Family Court, and those 16 and older entered pleas now sealed under terms of youthful offender treatment.
The girl was so humiliated she dropped out of school, Murphy said. Her parents “were completely beside themselves,” he said.
And while steps were taken to expunge the images from all available computer networks, Murphy said they remain on a Web site in Holland and will probably be on display on the Internet forever.
“It’s insane, it’s crazy,” Murphy said of sexting.
Montgomery County District Attorney Jed Conboy said his office prosecuted a recent case in which images of a teenage girl were distributed by her ex-boyfriend. The crime occurred when a second girl exhibited the images to younger children riding with her on the school bus, Conboy said.
As part of the disposition of that case, Conboy said, the second girl will be prohibited from owning a cell phone capable of taking, sending or displaying photos.
A state police investigator assigned to Internet crimes said the phenomenon of sexting has become prevalent over the last two years.
However destructive to the individuals involved, much of the activity is either not criminal or not suitable for prosecution, said the investigator, who spoke on the condition he not be named.
Each case must be evaluated by prosecutors, he said.
Often, he said, the images are created by two young people who are dating. “Oh c’mon, send me something,” one teenager might text to the other, he said.
As many kids learn, he said, “once that picture is on the Internet, it’s out there . . . out there forever.”