Teens face felony 'sexting' charges

Court: Sex offender registration on the line

January 30, 2010 

Three Chinook Middle School students were formally charged Friday in juvenile court with felonies stemming from a "sexting" incident in which they allegedly sent nude photos of a 14-year-old girl via their cell phones.

Copies of the photo have spread from phone to phone among a large number of North Thurston middle school students, according to Lacey police. The mother of the alleged victim said Friday that the photo has found its way to Olympia High School.

“It’s everywhere,” said the girl’s mother, identified here only by her first name, Toni, to protect the identity of her daughter.

The students accused of sending the photo are identified as a 14-year-old boy and two 13-year-old girls.

Each is charged with a single count of dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The charge is a class C felony, carrying a maximum penalty of 30 days in juvenile detention. Anyone convicted of the offense is required to register as a sex offender.

Toni said she and her daughter do not think that the three juveniles facing charges deserve to have to register as sex offenders or to have felony records follow them into adulthood.

“That isn’t going to solve anything,” she said. “But we both agree that there need to be consequences – stiff consequences.”

Toni said her daughter exhibited poor judgment in taking the nude photo of herself and sending it to her then-boyfriend, but she “didn’t do anything to deserve this.”

The boyfriend sent the photo to one of the girls charged in the case after he had broken up with the alleged victim. That girl sent it to the other girl who has been charged, and she sent it to other students, according to police.

Thurston County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rick Peters agreed Friday that the case is “a situation where the technology is ahead of the legislation.” He said he thinks the Legislature should come up with a law that better fits the wrongdoing committed by juveniles who maliciously spread nude photos of their peers.

Peters said he thinks a crime was committed. However, he said Thursday that he doesn’t think any consenting teen couple who send nude photos of themselves to each other should automatically be arrested, because it “doesn’t really fit the elements of the crime.” But when nude photos of someone are sent and resent multiple times, maliciously and without the photo subject’s consent, it rises to the level of the crime of “dealing” in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, he said.

Toni noted Friday how quickly the copies of the photos of her daughter spread from student to student.

According to information e-mailed to The Olympian from North Thurston Public Schools spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve: “The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reported last month that a survey of 1,280 teens and young adults found that 20 percent of the teens said they had sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves. That number was slightly higher for teenage girls – 22 percent – vs. boys – 18 percent.”

Schrieve said Friday that the school district is working to educate students and parents about sexting. Middle school teachers at Chinook and Komachin discussed the issue with students in their first-period classes Wednesday, she said. Chinook Principal Kirsten Rae sent a letter home to parents stating that sexting is a serious crime.

The school district also has placed automated notification calls to all of its middle school parents, explaining what sexting is and that it is a crime, Schrieve said.

Schrieve described the incident as a wake-up call. She added that the district might plan an educational forum or publish educational materials about sexting.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465

jpawloski@theolympian.com

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