That sequence of events, though unusually devastating, is the standard story. Girls tend to send pictures to guys more often than vice-versa, and they are more often struck with the negative consequences.
Those consequences can include criminal charges when the photographs are of minors. In the above case, the girl sending a picture to her boyfriend is technically distributing child pornography, a felony that, with conviction, can lead to registration on the sex offender registry. The boyfriend is guilty of possessing child porn and of distributing it.
At least one 18-year-old in Florida is on a sex offender registry along with rapists and pedophiles for distributing photos of his 16-year-old girlfriend to friends.
The Saratoga County District Attorney's office does not generally prosecute young girls whose photos end up distributed all over, said Murphy. The social fallout is usually punishment enough. For those who take the pictures and pass them on, however, legal ramifications are considered on a case-by-case basis.
"I do not believe that the Legislature intended to target middle school and high school students who were sending their picture to a boyfriend," said Murphy. He said that most DAs in New York are like-minded.
In Vermont, the Legislature is considering a bill that would legalize the consensual exchange of graphic images between two people 13 to 18 years old. Passing along the images to others would remain a crime. The bill has passed the Senate and is being considered in the Assembly.
Supporters, who are quick to point out that they do not condone sexting, say it's a reasonable way to protect teens from paying for their poor judgment for decades, and they argue it closes a loophole in sex offender laws that were never meant to be used to prosecute youngsters.
While that alleviates concerns about turning hormonal mistakes into life-altering felonies, Murphy worried that such a change might present adult criminals " child pornographers, predators and pedophiles " a crack to slip through.