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'Sexting' can cause big trouble

Don't do it. Emailing revealing photos can cause all sorts of problems for teens -- several young women have even committed suicide as a result. (This model is actually wearing a swimsuit under the black censor bars imposed in this photo illustration by Brian Basham) FEDERICO STEVANIN/FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET1 / 3
Detroit Lakes teacher and media specialist Kent Mollberg, left, often presents seminars on Internet safety. This one was in New York Mills earlier this year.2 / 3
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Teens are constantly peer-pressured into doing things they may regret in the future.

Among those things is "sexting" -- a phenomenon in which teens and young adults exchange nude or semi-nude photos between cell phones.

Although a few local high school students think the idea is flat out "disgusting," they said it still happens.

"If I ever received anything like that I would throw my phone," said 17-year-old Carrie Sorensen, a junior at Detroit Lakes High School. "It's just one more stupid thing that our generation is doing."

She and fellow junior, Shelby Spry, say more guys than girls tend to send photos of their private parts as a joke.

"They think it's funny. That's not funny," Sorensen said.

School administrators continue to bring awareness to cyber safety and cell phone use in order to avoid exacerbating the idea of sexting to the point that students get in trouble with the law.

"I think there has been incidents and they need to take care of it," Spry said.

No charges have been filed in Becker County District Court as a result of sexting incidents, according to Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz.

But the Becker County Sheriff's Department has received reports from parents who've found promiscuous photos on their children's cell phones, either sent to them or by them.

John Sieling, investigator with the Becker County Sheriff's Department, said about six cases have been reported in the last year.

"The kind of stuff that we see weren't totally nude," Sieling said. "They had clothing on but it was promiscuous stuff."

Potential charges

When it comes to child pornography charges, the laws are "very specific," Fritz said. So even if a teenager isn't convicted of possession of pornographic work -- a felony-- due to the nature of the sext, it's possible he or she may be charged with other crimes.

"You have dissemination of harmful materials ... you have interference with privacy," he said. Other possible violations include, distribution of obscene materials, indecent exposure and disorderly conduct.

"It's a case by case basis. You have to determine whether it fits the child pornography statute or whether (based on) the circumstances of the case, some other criminal law would apply," Fritz added.

The legal consequences range from misdemeanors to felonies with penalties up to 20 years in prison.

"The one little quick joke or the pressure from the boyfriend to do something like that could lead to a host of problems," he said.

Regardless, law enforcement, school officials and parents have one message to send to teenagers who exchange those types of explicit messages:

"Basically, don't do it. Do whatever you can to avoid sexting," said Kent Mollberg, media specialist for the Detroit Lakes High School and Middle School. "It's gonna come back to haunt you."

Teenagers don't realize that when photos are out there, sometimes the intended recipient is not the only person who can see the photos.

According to a survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and, 36 percent of teen girls and 39 percent of teen boys say it's common for nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.

Often times young people trust their significant others to keep the nude or provocative photos private. They either send the photo out of pressure or to prolong the relationship, said Detroit Lakes High School senior Stephanie Young. But they don't realize the consequences.

"You can't base a relationship off of sex," she said. "If you break up, then you can use it for black mail or something."

Social backlash

Once the photos are out there, there is no getting them back and the potential impact could include future employment, college admission and relationship problems.

"Other issues that follow along with that is the stress the person who's in the image would suffer," Fritz said. "Which would be mental health issues, potentially suicide."

In 2009, two cases of suicide were attributed to sexting gone viral, According to Psychology Today.

An 18-year-old Ohio girl hanged herself after being harassed by her peers as a result of a sext she sent to her boyfriend who forwarded it on to others in the school.

A 13-year-old middle school student from Florida also hanged herself after being bullied as a result of a racy photo she sent to her crush.

Examples like those are often covered in special seminars held at area schools.

"There is research out there that shows that the teenage brain is not capable yet of understanding the repercussions of their actions," Mollberg said. "So what we try to do is show (students) situations based on other incidents around the country."

Detroit Lakes Patrolman and former school liaison, Chad Jutz, encourages parents to monitor their children's phones closely and if a situation gets out of hand, don't allow picture mail or text message services on their cell phones.

"That's just the best way to do it," he said.

And to the teens out there who may receive nude or semi-nude photos of their classmates, the first thing to do is delete the photo immediately.

"If you receive a photo, if you receive something inappropriate, you've done nothing wrong," Mollberg said. "But if you keep it, or the minute you click forward, ... then you've committed a crime."