TRENTON, N.J. — A 14-year-old New Jersey girl has been accused of child pornography after posting nearly 30 explicit nude pictures of herself on MySpace.com — charges that could force her to register as a sex offender if convicted.
The case comes as prosecutors nationwide pursue child pornography cases resulting from kids sending nude photos to one another over cell phones and e-mail. Legal experts, though, could not recall another case of a child porn charge resulting from a teen's posting to a social networking site.
MySpace would not comment on the New Jersey investigation, but the News Corp.-owned company has a team that reviews its network for inappropriate images. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tipped off a state task force, which alerted the Passaic County Sheriff's Office.
The office investigated and discovered the Clifton resident had posted the "very explicit" photos of herself, sheriff's spokesman Bill Maer said Thursday.
"We consider this case a wake-up call to parents," Maer said. The girl posted the photos because "she wanted her boyfriend to see them," he said.
Investigators are looking at individuals who "knowingly" committed a crime, he said, declining to comment further because the case is still being investigated.
The teen, whose name has not been released because of her age, was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography and distribution of child pornography. She was released to her mother's custody.
If convicted of the distribution charge, she would be forced to register with the state as a sex offender under Megan's Law, said state Attorney General Anne Milgram. She also could face up to 17 years in jail, though such a stiff sentence is unlikely.
Some observers — including the New Jersey mother behind the creation of Megan's Law — are criticizing the trend of prosecuting teens who send racy text messages or post illicit photos of themselves.
Maureen Kanka — whose daughter, Megan, became the law's namesake after she was raped and killed at age 7 in 1994 by a twice-convicted sex offender — blasted authorities for charging the 14-year-old girl.
The teen needs help, not legal trouble, she said.
"This shouldn't fall under Megan's Law in any way, shape or form. She should have an intervention and counseling, because the only person she exploited was herself."
Called "sexting" when it's done by cell phone, teenagers' habit of sending sexually suggestive photos of themselves and others to one another is a nationwide problem that has confounded parents, school administrators and law enforcers.
Prosecutors in states including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin have tried stop it by charging teens who send and receive the pictures.
In northeastern Pennsylvania, a prosecutor recently threatened to file child porn charges against three teenage girls who authorities say took racy cell-phone pictures that ended up on classmates' cell phones.
The MySpace case may be a first, though.
"I'm not sure I've seen a prosecution like this coming out of a social networking site," said Seth Kreimer, a constitutional law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Milgram, the attorney general, could not recall another such case in New Jersey. She cautioned parents to get on those sites and monitor what their kids are talking about and posting.
"Unfortunately, youth don't have the same judgment as adults," she said, "and often, adults don't have the same technical savvy as the youth."
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