TRENTON – A  14-year-old New  Jersey girl has been accused of child pornography after posting nearly 30  explicit nude pictures of herself on MySpace.com — charges that could force her  to register as a sex offender if convicted. The case comes as prosecutors nationwide pursue child pornography cases  resulting from kids sending nude photos to one another over cell phones and  e-mail. Legal experts, though, could not recall another case of a child porn  charge resulting from a teen’s posting to a social networking site.

MySpace would not  comment on the New Jersey investigation, but the company has a team that reviews  its network for inappropriate images. The National  Center for Missing and Exploited Children tipped off a state task force,  which alerted the Passaic  County Sheriff’s Office. The office investigated and discovered the Clifton  resident had posted the “very explicit” photos of herself, sheriff’s spokesman Bill  Maer said Thursday. “We consider this case a wake-up call to parents,” Maer said. The girl posted  the photos because “she wanted her boyfriend to see them,” he said.

Investigators are looking at individuals who “knowingly” committed a crime,  he said, declining to comment further because the case is still being  investigated. The teen, whose name has not been released because of her age, was arrested  and charged with possession of child pornography and distribution of child  pornography. She was released to her mother’s custody. If convicted of the distribution charge, she would be forced to register with  the state as a sex offender under Megan’s Law, said state Attorney General Anne  Milgram. She also could face up to 17 years in jail, though such a stiff  sentence is unlikely.

Some observers – including the New Jersey mother behind the creation of  Megan’s Law — are criticizing the trend of prosecuting teens who send racy text  messages or post illicit photos of themselves. Maureen  Kanka – whose daughter, Megan, became the law’s namesake after she was  raped and killed at age 7 in 1994 by a twice-convicted sex offender – blasted authorities for charging the 14-year-old girl.

The teen needs help, not legal trouble, she said. “This shouldn’t fall under Megan’s Law in any way, shape or form. She should  have an intervention and counseling, because the only person she exploited was  herself.” Called “sexting” when it’s done by cell phone, teenagers’ habit of sending  sexually suggestive photos of themselves and others to one another is a  nationwide problem that has confounded parents, school administrators and law  enforcers. Prosecutors in states including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin have tried stop  it by charging teens who send and receive the pictures.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, a prosecutor recently threatened to file child  porn charges against three teenage girls who authorities say took racy  cell-phone pictures that ended up on classmates’ cell phones. The MySpace case may be a first, though. “I’m not sure I’ve seen a prosecution like this coming out of a social  networking site,” said Seth  Kreimer, a constitutional law professor at the University  of Pennsylvania. Milgram, the attorney general, could not recall another such case in New  Jersey. She cautioned parents to get on those sites and monitor what their kids  are talking about and posting. “Unfortunately, youth don’t have the same judgment as adults,” she said, “and  often, adults don’t have the same technical savvy as the youth.”

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