Oct. 14, 2008 — -- Despite specific warnings from prosecutors, the 15-year-old Ohio girl who was arrested last week and accused of sending nude pictures of herself to classmates probably doubted that she could ultimately be forced to register as a sex offender under state law, psychologists and Internet experts say.
More than likely, they suggest, she was only after a sliver of notoriety, the product of a culture where pornography has gone mainstream and fame can be had in an instant by simply distributing a sexually explicit video with a cell phone or on the Internet.
"They think they're going to get attention -- that it makes them stars of their own reality show," Internet privacy and piracy lawyer Parry Aftab said of the growing number of U.S. teenagers who publish sexual images of themselves online.
"They don't understand the consequences," said Aftab, an ABC News consultant. "They don't think about where that video is going to go, or how long it's going to be on the Internet and the 50-year-old who is going to be drooling over it."
If convicted, the girl, whose identity has not been released, could face a sentence of anywhere from probation to several years in a juvenile detention center. The high school student in Newark, Ohio, denies the charges; authorities are also considering charges for the students who received her photos, which are considered child pornography under law.
There are other examples. Earlier this year, an Ohio boy reportedly made a sexual cell phone video of himself and sent it to female classmates, one of whom then forwarded the video to at least 30 other people. Similar incidents have been reported in Wyoming, New York and Pennsylvania.
"They don't understand the global nature and extent of the Internet, and how easy it is once you posted something, even if you think it's private, could become public very quickly," said John Grohol, a psychologist and publisher of PsychCentral.com.
Such incidents are a symptom of a culture where sexual imagery like the infamous photo of Britney Spears' exposed crotch or Vanity Fair's seminude photos of 15-year-old "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus have become the norm, said Jean Kilbourne, author of "So Sexy, So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids."
"This is primarily because of the Internet porn that has become incredibly available to everybody, including very young children," she said. "Today, an 8-year-old can stumble onto a site in which two or three men are doing everything imaginable to one woman."
"Everybody feels that the most important thing is to get your 15 minutes of fame and to go to any lengths to achieve it. So sending pictures around like that is a way of getting a whole lot of attention and recognition even though it's going to be devastating and short-lived."
There's no doubting their interest. A study released last year by the University of Alberta found as many as 90 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 14 have accessed sexually explicit material at least once.
A prime example of the mainstreaming of pornography, said Kilbourne, is the widespread popularity of thong underwear, a garment that originated in the world of strippers and porn and made its way into major apparel retail shops across America.
Add that to a world where many young people long to become overnight Internet sensations and incidents like the one in Ohio are inevitable, said Carmine Sarracino, co-author of "The Porning of America."
"It's simply an emulation. The more important point is that they get porn whether or not they go looking for it because the whole culture is shaped by porn. They get porn through the mainstream culture," Sarracino said, citing Abercrombie & Fitch ads with half-naked men and women, as well as a Carl's Jr. hamburger commercial, where Paris Hilton appeared to mimic oral sex with a burger.
"It's a symptom of a much larger phenomenon that's happening."