Buffalo NY.Time was, when a girl had a crush on a boy, she sent him a note in class. Today, as at least one local school district has learned, she might use her cell phone to take a naked picture of herself and send the photo to him. The Pioneer Central School District over the past two months has discovered three cases of teenage girls — ages 13 to 16 — electronically sending nude photos to male classmates.
“All of the situations we’re dealing with, the images are of a girl in a provocative and seductive position, and in the nude,” Pioneer Superintendent Jeffrey Bowen told The Buffalo News.
The photos came to light when school officials confiscated students’ cell phones for other disciplinary reasons.
Four middle and high school students were suspended in the incidents, but for reasons not explicitly connected to the transmission of the photos, Bowen said.
The students who received or redistributed the photos are not facing criminal charges because of their youth, said Mark Schultz, principal of Pioneer High School.
Experts say this is part of a growing trend of young people using the latest technology to capture an intimate moment or illegal activity and then transmitting it to a friend or, often, the wider world.
“What’s happening in Pioneer is mirroring what’s happening not only here but nationally,” said Patti McLain, community educator with the Buffalo office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The Pioneer district, which covers parts of Cattaraugus, Wyoming, Erie and Allegany counties, started confronting these explicit photos this spring.
The first case, from March or early April, involved a middle school student who was off school grounds when she sent a naked photo of herself to a male classmate who was serving a session of detention, Bowen said.
A teacher who was supervising the male student took away his cell phone because Pioneer pupils aren’t allowed to use their phones while in school.
After confiscating the phone, a school official found the naked photo.
The boy who received the photo was briefly suspended, but for his improper use of a phone during school and not for receiving the photo, the superintendent said.
The other two cases involved high school students.
In one, a pair of students staying after school to watch a sporting event got into a fight on the grounds of the high school.
A coach who heard the noise stepped in, stopped the altercation and confiscated the cell phone of another student who was using its video-camera function to record the fight, Schultz said.
While looking through the phone, school officials found a naked photo of a female high school student, the principal said.
The student who had the image on his phone was suspended for using the phone on school grounds to record the fight, Schultz said.
In the third and most recent case, a female high school student at some point sent a naked photo of herself as a text message to her boyfriend, a fellow high school student.
“That picture then was forwarded somehow from that phone to another phone and was distributed from there,” Schultz said.
Somehow, the picture led to tensions between the original photo taker and another female student, leading them to fight each other sometime in late April or early this month, Bowen and Schultz said.
The female students were disciplined for the fight, Schultz said.
In each case, officials worked to identify the students depicted in the photos — a total of three teens ranging in age from 13 or 14 to 16 — and contacted their parents.
The teens initially didn’t realize the consequences of what they were doing, Bowen said, but now they do and they are upset.
The school is limited in what it can do to punish the teens who received and distributed the photos, Schultz and Bowen said.
School officials would have to prove that the transmission or distribution of the images occurred on school grounds, the principal said.
School resource officers from the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the investigation into the images, Schultz said.
Deputies told school officials that the students could not be held criminally liable for possession of what is essentially child pornography because of their own youth, he said.
In response to these cases, homeroom teachers last week read a statement to high school students reminding them of the consequences of this behavior.
The statement from Schultz also is posted on the Pioneer district’s Web site.
This situation isn’t unique to Pioneer.
In the Syracuse area, a number of female students from the Cicero-North Syracuse district took cell phone photos of themselves nude and sent them by text message to their boyfriends.
The photos, which wound up on the Web, came to light when one student was caught selling copies of a DVD of the images that he had created, according to the Syracuse Post- Standard.
Most famously, a naked photo of “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens intended for her boyfriend made its way onto the Internet and into the public domain last fall.
“There’s definitely an oversexualization of our youth. They are much more willing to put themselves out there in a sexual way,” said McLain, the local official with the center for missing and exploited children.
Parents and school districts need to be proactive in reminding young people that a digital image can be a permanent and widely shared reminder of what was intended to be a private moment, said Jayne Hitchcock, president of WHOA-KTD, or Working to Halt Online Abuse — Kids-Teen Division, a volunteer group devoted to online safety.
“When you voluntarily give somebody a photo of yourself, a video of yourself, . . . they can and probably will use it against you,” she said. “That’s the nature of the Internet now.”