SAN DIEGO - Team 10 was tipped off to the names of three of the seven schools involved in a sexting scandal which could lead to charges against dozens of students.
Those students are accused of sending sexually explicit photos of themselves to others, which is something investigators say amounts to child pornography.
The schools are in the North County. They include Carmel Valley Middle School, Canyon Crest Academy and Cathedral Catholic High School.
It started with a dozen local teenage girls sending nude photos of themselves to their boyfriends. Soon, those photos made the rounds to several friends at seven different schools.
Lt. Chuck Haye of the San Diego Police Department says it is considered a criminal offense.
"The individuals took pictures of themselves in very compromising positions, exposing various parts of their bodies, and very, you know, unflattering," he said.
At least 30 students from six high schools and one middle school are involved. Police say possessing and distributing these types of images is considered child pornography and is against the law.
"Sometimes these go to places these young women had no idea they were going to go," he said.
Gordon Cooke's 14-year-old daughter attends Canyon Crest, one of the schools being investigated.
"I think I need to sit down and talk with my kids so they understand what's going on and that this is pretty serious stuff and it could wreak havoc on their lives," he said.
Cooke says while it may have just seemed like fun between friends, he says teens and parents need to be aware of the consequences of sending or posting nude photos.
"I think a lot of the kids don't realize and they think it's funny and innocent," he said. "Next thing you know, anything you do ends up on the World Wide Web and leaves a digital footprint that can scar them for the rest of their lives."
San Diego police say they will file criminal charges soon. They have not said when that will happen. All those being investigated are minors.
Cathedral Catholic High School officials released the following statment regarding the report:
"The news media reported that several students from various schools around San Diego County, including Cathedral Catholic High School, are under investigation for a sexting scandal. We are unaware of any of our students involved in this investigation.
We have asked our school community to refrain from speculating and engaging in rumors that could hinder the investigation or erroneously identify innocent students.
During the past year we have provided our students, parents and faculty numerous Wellness education programs including a Town Hall Forum about Keeping Kids Safe with expert panelists including doctors, lawyers, members of law enforcement, and social media experts. We will continue to offer these types of educational programs for our community. We invite our families to attend our next Wellness program for students and parents on Thursday, Nov.14th, M3 Rock & Talk, 6:30-8pm at The CCHS, Claver Center."
Possession and distribution of child pornography is a felony.
The Internet task force warns that inappropriate pictures can haunt a teenager for years, if not forever. Here is a list of recommendations issued by the task force to help parents keep their children safe:
- Understand the technology that your child is using. Know about your child's phone, as well as social network sites, gaming systems and chat sites. Some of these could have messaging and photo-sharing options.
- Remind your kids, once the image is sent, it can never be retrieved. They will lose control of it. Talk to your kids about how they would feel if their teachers, parents, friends and the entire school saw the picture. Discuss your expectations and the potential legal and social ramifications of sending inappropriate pictures or spreading them online.
- Talk about the pressures to send revealing photos. Let your children know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation can be hundreds of times worse.
- Communicate house rules. A child should have pre-established house rules before they receive a phone.
- Phone will be charged at night in parents room (Parents can review contents and keeps kids from texting all night)
- Must maintain grades at a certain level
- Must be a productive member of the family
- Check your phone bill and make sure you recognize all numbers on it. Kids text all the time. Ask children about any number that you don’t recognize.
- You are the Parent. You pay the bill. You own the phone. Therefore, you have the right and responsibility to be a good watchdog. Privacy has to do with changing clothes and going to the bathroom, not ignoring all of their tech communication.
- SafetyNet, a program of the San Diego Police Foundation, www.SmartCyberChoices.org offers additional resources for parents.
Anyone with information about this case can call the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at (858) 715-7100 or Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.