Oct. 10, 2008 — -- A 15-year-old Ohio girl faces felony charges and may have to register as a sex offender for allegedly taking nude photos of herself and sending them to her high school classmates.
The girl, whose name has not been released, was arrested last week and charged in juvenile court with possessing criminal tools and the illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, said Licking County, Ohio, prosecutor Ken Oswalt.
Her alleged actions are part of what some in law enforcement say is a growing problem around the country.
During a court appearance this week, the teen denied the charges, according to Oswalt. The girl attends Licking Valley High School in the town of Newark. Her lawyer declined to comment.
"There's a totally false perception among juveniles that there is no risk to this," Oswalt told ABCNews.com. "That picture, once taken and sent, gives anyone who receives it the ability to do anything with it, forever. If a picture of you found its way onto the Internet, that's going to haunt you, potentially forever."
If convicted, the girl could face a sentence of anywhere from probation to several years in a juvenile detention center. A judge also has the discretion to make the girl register as a sex offender under Ohio law.
Oswalt said other teens who received the photographs, which are considered child pornography under state law, may also be charged.
Law enforcement agencies and schools across the country say they are struggling to deal with a relatively new phenomenon -- teens who send nude photos to friends and classmates.
A 17-year-old in Wisconsin was charged in May with child pornography for allegedly posting naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend on the Internet. The girl had sent him the pictures. He told the La Crosse County Sheriff's Department he was just "venting" after she broke up with him.
Earlier this year, another teenager in Ohio reportedly made a sexual cell phone video of himself and sent it to female classmates. One of the girls forwarded the video to at least 30 other people. Similar incidents have been reported in Wyoming, New York and Pennsylvania.
Oswalt said his office got several such cases a week earlier this year before he started giving presentations at high schools warning of the potential consequences of sending nude photos.
One of those presentations, he said, was delivered at Licking Valley, the same high school attended by the 15-year-old.
Oswalt said the girl had already been warned by school administrators about what he called "inappropriate cell phone behavior."
The Licking Valley High School principal did not return a call for comment.
In Pittsburgh, Pa., police Detective Mike Overholt told ABC News he encounters similar problems at least once a week. "It's ballooned here," he said.
"My sense is they look at it as if there's nothing wrong with it," said Overholt. "It's being a star."
But there can be serious consequences in many states that make child pornography illegal to send or possess.
A teen field hockey player in upstate New York testified earlier this year that she took a photograph of herself in panties and bra and sent it to her coach at his request.
"It made me feel special and important," she told a jury, according to Binghamton Press Sun Bulletin. "He would say I was beautiful, that I had a good body and was really athletic."
The coach was convicted of child pornography and other charges.
Candice Kelsey, author of "Generation MySpace: Helping Your Teen Survive Online Adolescence," said online culture encourages exhibitionism. "It's a means of getting attention, of becoming more popular," she said. "It's an unhealthy extension of a healthy adolescent exploration."