May 23, 2008 — -- Alex Phillips, a "wise guy" who wanted to get revenge on his 16-year-old girlfriend by posting photos of her most private parts on MySpace, now faces felony child pornography charges in Wisconsin.
Phillips is 17 and considered an adult under the law, and his former girlfriend is a minor. He told La Crosse County Sheriff's Department he was just "venting" after she jilted him last week.
The girlfriend had taken the naked photos of herself in her home, then sent them to Phillips on her cell phone, according to Sgt. Mark Yehle. One was "front body nudity" and a second was her "vaginal and anal area," he said.
"I can only surmise she thought that would impress him somehow," said Yehle. "She's not an innocent victim. Kids don't realize that once a photo is in a digital format and you send it to someone, you better trust that person."
When the girl discovered the photos had been posted on the Internet with explicit captions, she contacted police, who asked Phillips to take them down or face jail time. Police said the boy refused, saying, "F*** that, I am keeping them up."
Phillips eventually told police he would take down the photos, but they were still there the next day, according to Yehle, so they contacted MySpace, which immediately had them removed.
Yehle said Phillips has been living with his grandparents, who are his guardians, and not attending school. He also had been previously charged with drug violations.
Phillips, who is one year older than his ex-girlfriend, has been charged with possession of child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child by a person under 18 and defamation. The exploitation charges alone carry a 12-year sentence, according to circuit court papers.
The charges may seem harsh for two teens so close in age, but one Internet safety expert said they are a stern warning. Phillips turns 18 in June, and could have been charged under federal law with even tougher penalties.
Attempts by ABC News to reach Phillips for comment were unsuccessful.
"Generally, law enforcement doesn't want to do it unless it's trafficking," said Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer and volunteer for WiredSafety. "The problem was he was a wise guy."
"I am sure he will be pleaded out," she said. "No one wants him to go to jail. It's more than a slap on the wrist, but if you tell police where to go, you'll end up in jail."
Without stiff penalties in cases like these, teens like Phillips can take down the photos then repost them elsewhere. "If you can't get a kid to stop, it's like trying to catch a river in your hand," Aftab said. "They are letting him know how serious this is."
Phillips' attitude may have been cavalier, but using the Internet to play out his breakup is not. Incidents like this have been common for years among teens, according to Aftab.
Several years ago in Bergen County, N.J., one teen convinced others to have sex on camera and sold the pictures. In Riverdale, N.Y., a girl distributed a video of herself masturbating and having oral sex with a banana and posted it on Kazaa and "no one could get it down," she said.
American Idol contestant Antonella Barba was under fire when a series of racy photos were published on the Internet in 2007. She said they were personal photos that were "exploited without my consent," according to news reports at the time.
"It's truly an epidemic and no surprise," said Aftab. "Nothing is private anymore. Everyone wants to be Pamela Anderson."
With a cell phone or Web cam and Internet access, girls can distribute photos for all to see. "It's even good kids who you think never in a million years would they do it."
"They are looking for their 15 megabytes of fame," she said. "They want to be admired, want someone to want them. A lot of them are lonely and starved for attention. A lot of girls think they have no choice but to pose in this way. And then there are the thrill seekers who do it because it's edgy and cool."
Girls as young as 12 take photos of themselves "naked from the neck down," according to Aftab. "They come from good homes and their parents would be devastated if they knew."
Such was the case with Deborah Kusich, who was mortified when she discovered sexual photos of her 13-year-old stepdaughter on MySpace.
"She and her friend were humping the bed as if they were having sex," said the San Carlos, Calif., mother. Other photos were equally suggestive.
When she confronted her, the teen "came completely unglued. … I told her if I could get into her page, anyone could. She was totally naïve about it."
"I read all this stuff about kids who were putting their names and photos out there and were stalked by predators," she said. "I had the talk with her about how she was putting herself in the public domain."
Police doubt Alex Phillips will face "grave consequences" for posting the photos of his girlfriend online, especially because "she created them," said Yehle.
"This is becoming more common now," he said. "I can't say what he'll get at his age and her age, but they'll probably come up with a plea agreement."