Teen sexting: A WAFF 48 News Special Report

There is a rising danger for children with access to cell phones. Legal experts, law enforcement officials, and counselors agree that sexting is becoming more frequent among tweens and teenagers. A sext is a sexually suggestive or explicit text or picture message sent electronically through a cell phone or email.

Sexual assault counselor Kyle Blair said the messages are seen in a range of underage groups.

An interview with a group of middle school students revealed a trend counselors say parents should be alarmed about.

"It's going on in every school. In school, out of school, on the bus, at home and on the computers and stuff," said one student whose identity we agreed not to reveal.

Many students said girls give in to the peer pressure and send sexts because they want to please the boy they like. They think they are sending the messages to trusted boyfriends or friends, but the messages can spread very quickly.

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"Even boys or young men in committed relationships immediately show the pictures to their friends so now what was thought to be private and once that picture is taken, they have absolutely no control, it's gone. They're playing adults games, but they're not adults," said sexual assault counselor Bobbi Starr Corbin.

Experts assert the sext messages often end up on the internet, where virtually anyone can access them.

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According to WAFF 48 legal analyst and Huntsville lawyer Mark McDaniel, sexting is "rampant" in the Tennessee Valley. He made it clear local prosecutors and law enforcement officers are very serious about enforcing legal penalties of sending inappropriate photos of minors. McDaniel said in Alabama, a person who possesses or sends nude pictures of a minor, even if they are a minor, could face felony charges.

"Let's say the girl is sending pictures of herself, of her private parts to her boyfriend. She could be charged with possession because it is on her cell phone, and with dissemination. She sent it, so she could be charged with two felonies. The boy received it, and he would be charged with possession of the pornography, if you will," McDaniel said in his office.

[Preventing sexting]

There are very similar laws in Georgia, where anyone sending or receiving pictures of someone under 18 could have to become a registered sex offender for life.

Parents are often left wondering what to do about the activity that their children try to keep from them on their cell phones. Experts say it is important to be extremely involved with the way your children use technology and have an open dialogue with their kids about the repercussions of sexting.

"You would do a spot check and at any time, have the child understand that you are the authority with the phone and the phone is not a right, it's a privilege. I would check their text messaging and go through their pictures periodically," said Corbin.

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Specialists agree elementary school students should not have phones with cameras or internet access. Cell phone tracking software is also available.

"We should be alarmed. We should be concerned about the behaviors our young people are involving themselves in," warned Counselor Trikella Nelson.

Copyright 2011 WAFF. All rights reserved.