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Colorado teens won’t face trial for cell phone sex photos

Lance Benzel
Colorado Springs Gazette

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado “-A teenage couple from Air Academy High School faced the threat of being prosecuted as sex offenders after they were caught exchanging cell phone images they recorded while engaging in consensual sex.

Instead, authorities pursuing the Feb. 24 complaint announced Thursday the pair should be counseled, not incarcerated.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate to pursue charges,” said 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May, whose office initially set a course to charge the 17-year-old boy and his 15-year-old girlfriend with sexual exploitation of children, a felony usually reserved for sex predators who deal in child porn – not children themselves.



The case north of Colorado Springs is a local example of a national challenge: How best to manage teens who use their camera-equipped cell phones for “sexting,” or sending and receiving lewd images.

The practice can leave a trail of illegal images that circulates among cell phone users and Internet sites, breeding lasting damage.



Last July, an 18-year-old Cincinnati woman committed suicide when her ex-boyfriend sent classmates nude photos of her after their relationship soured.

Authorities in some parts of the country have resorted to drastic measures to staunch the problem, filing child pornography charges and seeing them through to convictions as an example to other impulsive teenagers.

In Colorado Springs, an El Paso County sheriff’s school resource officer began investigating the couple at the request of the school administrators, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Lt. Lari Sevene.



There is no evidence the couple sent the lurid picture messages to their friends, and nothing in the law prevents children that age from engaging in a sexual relationship.

But capturing minors nude or involved in sex activities with a camera constitutes child pornography, regardless of the context in which they were taken.

The couple were issued juvenile summonses on suspicion of sexual exploitation of children on March 17 after a three-week investigation that included input from the District Attorney’s Office, Svene said. They were fingerprinted at the Police Operations Center and released to the parents. The Gazette is not publishing their names because they are minors and because no charges have been filed.

May, who dealt with a similar case in Castle Rock while in the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said he could not discuss the allegations in detail because the office ultimately decided against filing charges.

He said is office is refining its approach to the crime – taking into account how others across the country are grappling with changing technology.

Investigators will consider each offense on a case-by-case basis, he said, and their decision to pursue charges will rest on a number of factors, including the age of the people involved, the nature of the images, whether they were distributed and if “malicious actions” were involved.

“It may be that we can do this without issuing a summons,” May said. “I think in the future you’ll see us coming out with a more formalized procedure.”

In Colorado Springs, police have yet to see a case in which “sexting” got out of hand. But examples from around the country have convinced Colorado Springs Police Sgt. Bill DeHart that communities need to get involved in the effort to craft a sensible approach.”It’s a social phenomenon right now, because you have kids that are obviously curious about sexuality and they’ve got access to things like this,” he said. “The public at large is going to have to figure out what we’re going to do.”

Dr. Mary Zesiewicz, a psychiatrist who practices with the Pikes Peak Mental Health Center, suggested that process should begin when parents purchase new gadgets for their children. They should set clear limits, talk about acceptable behavior, and be sure the children know they are being monitored.

“I’d be very honest and say, know what? I don’t want to be policing you around the clock, but it’s a scary world and I have the right to look.”


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