Sexting-a term used to describe the act of sending sexually explicit photos by cell phones-may land teens in legal trouble, warn police officials in Virginia.
The warning comes in the wake of a recent scandal in Fairfax County, in which the police discovered a cache of images of naked girls in the mobile phone of a teenage boy.
The police said that some of the photos could qualify as child pornography, a felony in Virginia.
"He thought it was a mischievous, fun game, without realizing he was asking these girls to commit a crime and he was committing a crime," the Washington Post quoted Sgt. Bill Fulton, of the Fairfax Police Department, as saying.
Authorities are concerned that the sexting issue has almost hit a tipping point in public concern. They say that it has raised an array of practical questions about how police and prosecutors should respond and what the long-term fallout could be for children.
"This whole phenomenon seems to have exploded in the last 60 days," said John McCarthy, the state's attorney for Montgomery County, adding that prosecutors across Maryland had exchanged ideas about the troubling trend.
According to him, the problem is that child porn laws never contemplated "children sharing images of themselves," and youthful sexters have little concept of their actions as a crime.
"You can literally see the shock on their faces," McCarthy said.
If police officials are to be believed, sexters are often "the good kids" with strong grades and no criminal history.
They say that most of such youngsters send photos without realising that they could be widely circulated or posted on the Internet in view of strangers, predators and potential colleges and employers.
The officials warn that landing on a sex offender registry is possible for those prosecuted.