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Hastings police responded to two 'sexting' cases this week

Hastings police this week responded to two apparently separate incidents involving teens sending nude photos of themselves to their significant others with cell phones.

The cases, called sexting, involve a 13-year-old boy sending photos of himself to his girlfriend. The other case involves a middle school girl sending photos to her boyfriend.

Investigations continue into each case. Felony charges are a possibility in each case if the photos were distributed.

"We now have the technology that really is moving kids in to a place where they can engage in a whole host of activities that they would probably never do face-to-face," Hastings Chief of Police Paul Schnell said. "They're doing this because it is digital - they transmit this stuff without thinking of the consequences. In many cases these kids simply do not think about the consequences of their actions."

Schnell said in addition to the criminal aspect of sexting, there are often many other possible complications. Some of these photos can even end up being sold online, he said.

"This can obviously be a huge problem," he said. "It's not always that it stops with somebody sending a photograph of themselves in various stages of undress. It's bad enough that these teens are doing this with each other. What they don't know is that those pictures can then be forwarded. In some cases, they can be sold. There is an increasing opportunity for exploitation that goes far beyond the interaction between one boy and one girl."

Schnell said that in other circumstances, a photo will be taken as a joke, like in a locker room or during a sleepover. The image will be sent to one person, who then sends it to another, and the photo is rapidly dispersed.

"Sometimes it's these kids taking pictures of each other as a 'joke,' then forwarding them off to friends," he said. "That's not the case with situations we are dealing with this week, though."

The technology available to students makes cases like these possible and increasingly prevalent, Schnell said.

"We need to recognize the fact, and understand, that we have all this new technology and that nobody really knows what the full implications of it will be," he said. "All of us are in a spot where we are trying to get a better sense of what all this stuff is going to mean to us."

Investigators within the Hastings Police Department are doing forensics work on the cell phones in these cases and looking at the photos to establish the digital evidence.

Schnell said it is too early to tell if anyone will be charged with a crime in this case. That will only be known after the investigators conclude their work.