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Teenagers Sending Sex Via Text Message

Local Kids Use Cell Phones To Take, Send Naked Pictures

4029 TV (US), October 30, 2008

ROGERS, Ark. -- Kids, with their cell phones, taking naked pictures of themselves and their friends, and forwarding them to everyone they know. It may sound far-fetched, but chances are, it's happening at a middle school near you.

The problem has been growing nationally, and 4029 wanted to find out whether cell phones were being used to send and receive naked pictures of underage kids in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley. The answer was a definitive yes.

Reporters found several eighth-graders in one local city who said they regularly send and receive nude pictures on their cell phones.

"Some guys send pictures of their bottom parts to girls because girls don't think they have big enough stuff," said one of the eighth-grade girls.

Girls and boys alike said the trend of taking naked pictures on their cell phones and sending them to friends and classmates is well-known in the halls of middle and high schools.

"Say, 'Hey, you think I could have a picture of you? Like, of your boobs or something?' And then the girl texts him back, and it's a picture of it and then you just send it to your friends and say, 'Haha, look! I have a picture of this girl's boobs,'" said an eighth-grade boy.

"Last year, girls were sending pictures of their @#%* around," one of the girls said.

When asked whether they had ever taken naked pictures of themselves and sent them to their friends, one girl admitted she had.

"To my other friends, like, other boyfriends that I like or whatever and it's really fun," she said.

We asked the group if they thought they were a little young to be engaging in this kind of activity. They said they thought they were too young but added that the reason many kids send naked pictures is that the pictures are funny and that it was fun to send and receive those images.

"A lot of times this is viewed as a joke, but there are serious criminal consequences if you're sending out pictures of a sexual nature of a juvenile," said Cpl. Eddie Weimer, the school resource officer at Lingle Middle School in Rogers.

Weimer is immersed in the world of 13- and 14-year-olds. But even he said he's amazed that students in the seventh and eighth grades could be trading nude photos with each other using their cell phones.

"At a middle school, I can't believe it's happening. I mean, I know it is. I'm sure it is. But it seems like it would be more of a high school problem," Weimer said.

Weimer added that it's not only wrong, it's illegal.

"I was looking through the statute book yesterday and it doesn't differentiate whether a 15-year-old has pictures of a 15-year-old or an adult has pictures of a 15-year-old. It's still a crime," Weimer said.

"It's probably illegal. Yeah, I don't know," one of the eighth-grade girls said, when asked if she thought she was breaking the law.

"It's still illegal. It's still child pornography. It can still get in the hands of a pedophile," Weimer said.

Lingle Middle School maintains a strict cell phone policy. But Weimer's hands are tied in one respect: Police can't look through cell phones without a warrant. That leaves police looking elsewhere for a solution.

"I think the parents need to take responsibility. Look through their kids' cell phones. See what their kids are taking pictures of," Weimer said.

"Just take the picture cameras away instantly. I wouldn't even let them have them to start with," said Michael Lewis, the father of two teenagers.

Michael has a 12-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter, both of whom have cell phones. But they don't have cameras, and he controls who is able to call them. Michael said all parents need to exercise that sort of supervision.

"Controlling who they call, what kind of stuff they can send text-wise, would definitely help a lot," Lewis said.

Clearly, some parents aren't taking that advice. One of the eighth-grade boys said his parents aren't allowed to look at his cell phone. Others in the group agreed.

"My mom doesn't read my texts because she knows it's not her privacy. It's mine. If she ever did, I would get mad at her and she'd say sorry," one of the girls said.

And the eighth-graders said, try as some parents might, the sexual texting will continue.

"I don't think anybody can do something about it. They're still going to do it somehow. It's like drugs -- not allowed to do it, but people still do it," one of the boys said.

In the last few months, several criminal cases have emerged from this kind of activity elsewhere in the country.

A 15-year-old girl in Ohio is facing felony charges and may have to register as a sex offender after allegedly sending naked pictures of herself from her cell phone. The same goes for a 17-year-old boy in Wisconsin and a 16-year-old boy in Utah. One incident in Colorado even involved a 6-year-old. All of those cases are being handled in juvenile courts.

School officials said they plan to be more vigilant with students who bring cell phones to class. But they added their efforts are doomed to failure if parents don't become more proactive in checking exactly what their kids are doing with their cell phones.

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