The investigation this week of a high school student in San Bernardino County for allegedly posting photos of nude underage girls on social media shed light on a problem that law enforcement says is widespread.
About a year ago, as many as four teenage boys who were friends and played on a high school sports team were arrested in the San Fernando Valley for selling digital albums with images of naked juvenile girls, said Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Andrea Grossman, commander of the regional Internet Crimes Against Children task force.
In 2008, the task force received about 500 cyber-tips about possible crimes against children; last year that number grew to about 3,700, with a sizable spike in "sexting cases," she said.
In most cases, Grossman said, girls will share images of themselves with one or two boys, who end up sharing the images digitally with others. Some of the photos end up online, she said.
The San Fernando Valley case was rare in that the boys tried to commercialize the collection of images, which were sold as USB drives, which can then be used to download the images on a computer, Grossman said.
She declined to share many more details about the case because the boys were juveniles, but Grossman said they were “apologetic” when they were arrested.
“They were apologetic, very, very apologetic. I don’t think they understood the risk they were taking,” she said. “They were trading these photos like they were baseball cards. I don’t think they thought it was so serious until they started talking to police.”
Almost always, the task force will try to work with children trading the images and their parents by educating them. The task force also conducts educational campaigns at schools in an effort to be proactive about the issue.
But once the boys sold the collection of photos of the underage girls, education wasn’t enough.
“The minute they were selling and distributing, our hands were tied,” Grossman said.
The 24-year LAPD veteran said the girls who take the photos rarely seem to grasp the consequences of their actions. Most of the girls in question Grossman said, are 13, 14 and 15 years old.
“They don’t seem to understand the big picture, that once it’s on the Internet, it’s on the Internet, and it could be there for life,” Grossman said. "There’s 6th and 7th graders doing this."
Grossman said the problem transcends class: Many of the cases that come before the task force’s attention involve private schools and public schools in well-off areas.
“It’s everywhere,” she said.
In the San Bernardino case, detectives are investigating how nude photos of four girls -- at least two of them juveniles -- were reportedly spread on Twitter by a high school student.
“It appears that the females took the pictures of themselves and sent them to the male, who allegedly may have shared the photos,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman.
The male is a student at Etiwanda High School, according to local media reports. He could be charged with a crime. So could the girls, for sending out the photos of themselves because the photos are considered child pornography, sheriff’s officials said.