'Sexting' Teens May Face Child Porn Charges

Six Massachusetts teens were caught texting a nude photo on their cell phones.

February 12, 2009, 1:45 PM

Feb. 12, 2009 — -- The father of one of six Massachusetts teens who may face felony charges for transmitting a photo of a semi-nude female classmate on their cell phones said today he thinks his son is being treated unfairly.

"This photo went around the whole school and it just happened that a few kids got caught," said Brian Hunt, father of 13-year-old Ben Hunt, who is an eighth grader at the Lawrence School in Falmouth, Mass.

Ben Hunt and five other teens were questioned by police after they were caught sending and receiving the photo and they could possibly face child pornography charges.

"I think [Ben] is being unfairly targeted," Hunt told ABCNews.com, adding that he is worried his son will face roadblocks when he applies for jobs and colleges if the felony charges stick. "These are 13-year-old kids who they're trying to charge as adults, they're not adults."

"We're dealing with teenagers here," he said.

While Hunt has identified his son as one of the six police questioned, the names of the other juveniles involved have not been released, and police have not identified the girl in the photo.

Hunt said he is speaking to the media in an effort to show law enforcement that he is dealing with his son's missteps.

Hunt described the photo that his son received and then sent to a friend as an image of "a girl lifting up her shirt and showing one of her breasts."

Calls made to the lead investigator at the Falmouth Police Department by ABCNews.com were not immediately returned, but police told the Cape Cod Times that while the boys had not been arrested they will be summoned for a juvenile hearing at Falmouth District Court. A date has not yet been set for the hearing.

According to police, the boys face charges that range from possessing or exhibiting a photograph of a child in a sexual act and possession of child pornography, both of which are felony charges.

Police have confiscated all of the cell phones involved in the incident.

Principal Teaches Students About Dangers of 'Sexting'

Lawrence School Principal Paul Fay, who first informed police of the photos, said he was made aware of the controversial photo around Jan. 15, when two female students reported the incident to a school social worker.

Since turning the case over to authorities, Fay said he's used the incident as a teaching tool to inform students of the risks of "sexting," the term used to describe the transmission of an indecent photo from one cell phone to another.

"The silver lining in all this is that it allows us the opportunity to raise awareness, and instead of putting our heads in the sand we can tell parents this is something they need to talk to their children about," said Fay.

"There are great uses for cell phones in terms of parents being able to communicate with their kids but there are downsides -- they can be distractions, or in this case they can be used to transmit inappropriate words or images," said Fay.

Bill Albert, the spokesman for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said that a recent report by the organization that surveyed more than 1,000 young adults aged 12 to 26 shows that "sexting" is on the rise.

"It's more common than parents think and certainly more common than they'd probably hope," said Albert. "Our research suggests that one in five teens freely admit that they have either sent or posted electronically nude or semi-nude images of themselves."

Albert says that an even larger percentage say they've received these sorts of images and that girls are only slightly more likely than boys to engage in the behavior. Girls also often indicate that they do so to "please their boyfriends."

"Parents can help their kids to understand that messages and pictures sent over the Internet and cell phones are not truly private or anonymous and once they press 'send' all bets are off," he said.

Study Shows Teens Don't Always Think Sexting Is Wrong

The survey also found that teens have conflicting feelings about whether sexting is inappropriate.

"Three-quarters said that they think this is the sort of activity that can lead to long-term, serious negative consequences," said Albert, "but on the other hand three quarters describe it as a fun, youthful and flirtatious activity."

"They are of two minds," he added.

While Hunt admits he had not previously spoken to his son about the dangers of sexting before this incident, he did say that he'd been open with his son about sex.

Even so, Hunt said his son's embarrassment and fear that over the incident has been punishment enough, and legal prosecution would blow the incident out of proportion.

"My son hasn't even had a chance to try to get a job at McDonald's, and this would be something that would stay on his record," said Hunt.

"He knows not to do it again and he's embarrassed," he said. "The kids aren't sleeping at night and this is really a threat to them. They're scared," he added.

Hunt said that prior to getting caught sexting, his son enjoyed basketball and football, and even had dreams of going into law enforcement.

"He had mentioned being a police officer," said Hunt.

"But with a record behind a 13-year-old kid, that doesn't look good, does it?"

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