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Police are investigating.
Nearly a dozen students are involved in a sexting investigation at two schools in Falls Church, Virginia, the Washington Post reports.
Falls Church police recovered multiple explicit images, discovered some were posted on social media, and learned one high school student appeared topless during a livestream on Instagram, according to a search warrant obtained by the Post.
“The City Police Department believes that the health and welfare of all children and teens are very important,” Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin said. “We are taking this investigation seriously and are being sensitive to the ages of the students in this case.”
The investigation, which began April 26, shows how easily and quickly nude photos can spread. Henderson Middle School’s assistant principal said a male student had broken up with his girlfriend, who he had exchanged naked photos with. After the breakup, the ex-girlfriend sent the photo of the male student’s penis to a second male student on Snapchat, who then posted it to his own story for about 10 minutes and sent it to another female friend.
During a search through that second male student’s phone, the assistant principal discovered a photo of a George Mason High School’s ninth grader’s breasts, originally screenshot by a different student when she exposed her breasts on Instagram Live. Upon searching that female student’s phone, they discovered yet another explicit video of a different male student, the search warrant reports.
Investigators seized a total of five student phones, although no charges have been filed. In Virginia, teens who sext can be prosecuted under the state’s child porn law, a felony that carries a minimum five-year sentence. The way the law stands now, prosecutors must choose to either sentence students with the felony or do nothing at all.
Virginia is in the process of potentially changing the law so that teens found sexting will be charged with a misdemeanor, with as little as six months of jail time. While lawmakers hope the change would allow minors to avoid life-ruining time in prison, critics argue it would compel prosecutors to actually charge minors in court, instead of allowing their parents to punish them.
What happened in Virginia isn’t all that uncommon, according to research published in JAMA Pediatrics. One in seven teens report sending sexts, and one in four are receiving sexts, according to a study of over 110,000 teens from around the world.
Tess Cagle is a reporter who focuses on politics, lifestyle, and streaming entertainment. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, Damn Joan, and Community Impact Newspaper. She’s also a portrait, events, and live music photographer in Central Texas.