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Severity of offenses varies in sending lewd photos via social media

Pennsylvania State Police have a suspect in a case of unsolicited pictures being sent to Warren County minors last month.

As they continue to investigate, police have released some information about sending sexual and certain other images via social media.

“It’s a crime,” Sgt. Ryan Nuhfer said. “Minor-to-minor, it’s a crime. An adult that sends something to a minor, that’s a different grading of the crime.”

The nature of the images and the intent of the message also contributes to grading. If police determine the sender’s intent is to harass or annoy, that makes the grading more serious, he said.

In January, “several minors were receiving graphic images through SnapChat,” Nuhfer said.

SnapChat is an application that creates a short-term image that appears to the recipient and then is gone. It is not saved to the recipient’s device nor to the cloud. “You receive them, and then they vanish,” he said. “The only way to save any of those images is to take a screenshot before they vanish.”

“It’s all very brand new,” Nuhfer said. “The laws haven’t kept up with the technology that’s out there.”

By Pennsylvania law, it is a crime for a minor to send a “sexually-explicit image” of himself or herself or to knowingly possess or view a sexually-explicit image of a minor.

Transmitting a sexually-explicit picture of some other minor is a more serious offense.

Sending a picture with the intent to cause “emotional distress” is yet more serious.

Even when the sharing of images is legal, there are risks.

“Personally, I wouldn’t do it at all,” Nuhfer said. “I wouldn’t take a chance of that image getting in the hands of anyone.”

He suggested that two people in a relationship “might be getting along just fine” when they exchange images. Then, in “a couple months,” they break up and there are now compromising images in someone’s possession.

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