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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Unified police detective Jerry Byam talks to a student at Taylorsville High School on Monday, March 13, 2017. According to Utah school and police officials, sexting is so widespread that many teens just accept it as commonplace for today's generation of high schoolers.

SALT LAKE CITY — Pat Reavy is the type of reporter you expect to go home each day smelling of ink.

But it's 2017, so he tweets, he searches the web, he's a go-to for cross-talk on radio as the expert crime guy. His reporting instincts are old school, built on years of tough reporting. He builds trusted sources and great contacts, beats the turf, scans documents and is willing to work all hours and go where the story takes him.

There's one other thing he does: He writes stories that are important for you to read.

He can spot a trend and this past week he wrote about a disturbing one, gleaned from items he kept seeing as he worked the beat.

From a single police affidavit: "The tipster indicated 14-year-old female … had sent some nude photographs of herself via text message to several other male students. The photos had allegedly then been sent out to multiple persons by subsequent recipients."

The activity is simple. A teen takes a selfie, thinks it's just normal flirting, shares it with a boyfriend or girlfriend (or would-be boyfriend or girlfriend) and it ends up getting shared. Embarrassment is the least of it. Police say in many cases it qualifies as child porn. Bullying happens. Extortion happens. And predators happen.

The report noted above is from a single incident at a single junior high school. But there have been others, at Alta High, Weber High, and in Draper; also Brighton and many other schools as the issue of sexting and sending nude selfies is reaching startling proportions.

"Teenagers don't think in terms of long-term consequences," Reavy said, recounting the disturbing story and his conversations with law enforcement officials, as well as psychologists.

This column, Inside the Newsroom, has chronicled stories from the worlds of politics, media, domestic life and more. This story — about sexting — is a trend not going away. It speaks to the ubiquitous nature of cellphones and the ease with which photos and information can be sent to, well, everyone.

Said Unified Police Sgt. Dan Moriarty with the Special Victims Unit to Reavy: "This is a huge problem and seems to be a normal behavior in school today. We spend a great deal of time with these cases because the pictures that are being shared are usually of juveniles, therefore it is classified as child porn."

Changes in our culture are playing a role. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner destroyed his marriage and his political career — twice. Singer and actor Demi Lovato uses strong words and writes passionately about empowering women. With her message and actions comes a defense of nude selfies. "Different things empower different women …" she noted, this time in defense of a Kim Kardashian nude selfie.

These are adults, of course. But such behavior impacts and teaches teenagers something. And teens are sorting out not only what they want to be but who they want to be and how to act.

4 comments on this story

Streaking was a thing back in the early 1970s, first on college campuses as rights of passage, then pranks. The behavior got more brazen, streaking full sports stadiums. Soon high school kids were doing it. Was it innocent? A fad?

It was a passing fad, without the reach that the internet now provides.

Sexting and sending nude images is far more serious, and illegal if minors are involved. And the consequences can last around the web forever.

Reavy helped sound the alarm about this growing problem. I asked him what the solution is to make a difference.

"Education," he said. Kids need to know the consequences of their actions.

It's a place to start.