Four teenage boys in Yucaipa have been cited for posting nude and seminude pictures of their classmates on the Internet, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
The case, which came to light Monday, involved eight girls ages 14 and 15 who attend Yucaipa High School's 9th Grade Campus.
"The girls were taking photos of themselves and sending them to their friends," said sheriff's spokeswoman Arden Wiltshire. "They were voluntarily doing this, but it got out of control and the photos began circulating and someone posted them on the Internet."
So far authorities have found eight victims, but Wiltshire said there could be more.
The Yucaipa Police, which is run by the Sheriff's Department, cited four 15-year-old boys for possession of harmful matter depicting a person under 18 and for sexual exploitation of a minor.
Their cases have been referred to juvenile authorities for prosecution.
The photos were removed from a social media site following a request by police.
"It is important in today's society that parents and educators work with our youth regarding the devastating consequences of having such personal photographs being posted on the World Wide Web," said Melissa Moore, assistant superintendent for human resources for the Yucaipa- Calimesa Joint Unified School District.
She declined to discuss the situation further, citing the ongoing investigation.
The increasingly common practice of sending explicit photos electronically, by cellphone or computer, is known as sexting.
Wiltshire said statistics show that 1 in 5 teenagers has done it -- 22% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys. Of those boys, 15% sent racy pictures of ex-girlfriends far and wide after a breakup, she said.
Last fall, Yucaipa-Calimesa school administrators took part in a sexting workshop put on by the Sheriff's Department. The workshops began in response to the number of sexting complaints coming in from local schools.
"Many principals on middle school campuses tell me it's their No. 1 problem," said Clark Morrow, who runs many of the seminars as crime-prevention coordinator for the Sheriff's Department.
"The classic form it takes is when a boyfriend pressures his girlfriend to take naked photos of herself and when they break up it ends up all over the Internet. Then the girls are often relentlessly bullied," he said.
Morrow has done 45 presentations on sexting but says many kids still don't grasp the seriousness of it.
"They say, 'What's the big deal, it's my body,' " he said. "They don't realize that in California it can get you up to three years in prison, a $2,500 fine and lifetime registration as a sex offender if you are caught creating child pornography."
Still, given the extent of the problem there have been relatively few prosecutions -- just nine in San Bernardino County in 2009, Morrow said.
"I don't know why, maybe the law hasn't caught up with the technology," he said.
"But kids have to understand that this stuff will haunt them the rest of their lives. When you are 80, it will still be there for your kids and grandkids to see," Morrow said.