Take a sexually explicit photo of someone under 18 years old and you've produced child pornography. Send it and you've distributed it. Receive it and you're in possession.
San Diego police officer Jordan Wells said the regulations surrounding sexting hold true even if the person in the image and the recipient are both minors.
“This has a wake and a destruction that is really harmful,” Wells said describing how some teenagers have resorted to self-injury or thoughts of suicide as a result of losing control of the very personal images.
Officer Wells will present the information at a community meeting Thursday night designed to educate residents of the dangers of sexting.
The practice of taking nude or sexually explicit photos and sending them to others is growing in popularity among high school and even junior high school students.
Just last week, SDPD announced they were investigating a sexting ring involving several high schools and middle school students.
The ring started when a dozen girls sent nude photos of themselves to their boyfriends. Then, the boyfriends passed the pictures on to their friends, creating a web of photo sharing, officials said.
Wells said he’s heard from detectives in other parts of the state and outside California who are trying to identify photos and images they have found on child porn suspects’ computers.
“It doesn’t stop with going to the boyfriend. It continues on and has a life of its own,” Wells said.
High school seniors Leila Zein-Phillipson and Chelsea Mapes both know people who practice sexting.
“I know people who send naked pictures of themselves to different people through SnapChat or even through just their phone,” said Zein-Phillipson.
She said teenagers use the app because they believe the photos delete themselves after a certain amount of time. There are other secret photo apps that require passwords, helping teens avoid parental supervision she said.
“If you have to send a picture to someone to make them like you, I don’t think you want that person to be your friend,” she said.
“Clearly now people are getting in super big trouble so it’s not worth it,” she added.
Mapes said she learned sexting was illegal in middle school but still knows people who continue to do it and share photographs with their friends.
“I know a couple of people because they saw the picture. They’re nervous and scared about it,” Mapes said.
Officer Wells has been investigating this type of crime for 5 years. He would not discuss how many people or which schools and communities were involved.
“All the kids involved are great kids. Every single parent thought ‘Not my kid,’ Wells said. “These aren’t the monsters. If we keep pushing it off that it’s somebody else, we’re not going to see and find out and help our own kids.”
Wells said it’s not a Carmel Valley problem or a school problem. It’s a social problem and it’s nationwide.
The meeting will be held in the gymnasium at Cathedral Catholic High School, 5555 Del Mar Heights Rd. Parents can attend on Nov. 7, 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.