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Forsyth County sheriff’s investigator Jeff Roe pointed to the screen in the gymnasium of Cornerstone SchoolsFriday and guided yet another audience — this one, middle school students — down the perilous path of sex and the Internet. Enlarge photo Phil Skinner, AJC Forsyth County sheriff’s investigator Jeff Roe, whose specialty is Internet crimes, talks about sexting to sixth- and ninth-graders at Cornerstone School in Cumming. More Atlanta area news » Appeals court seat attracts crowded field DeKalb hires new traffic court judge 2 kids accused of school arson Kids charged with setting school fire On the screen the students saw a photograph of Jessica Logan, a high school senior in Cincinnati who sent a naked picture of herself to her boyfriend. After the couple broke up, her photo wound up in the cell phones of hundreds of teenagers at several high schools. “People she thought were friends were calling her a whore and a slut,” Roe told the audience of about 50 private school students. “Then one day mom came home and found her hanging in the closet. She was dead.” Roe has been delivering this blunt-trauma message to students and community groups within and without Forsyth County for the past four years. Other systems across metro Atlanta, including Cobb, Gwinnett and Fulton County, host Internet sex-crimes seminars, but none is as aggressive as Forsyth’s, said Sue Dowling, a forensic computer specialist with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who works with schools. Roe says it’s hard to tell whether his campaign against “sexting” is slowing down the phenomenon. Sexting usually is defined as sending sexually explicit or suggestive images from one cell phone or electronic device to another; some definitions include text as well as pictures. “To me, it’s seems like we’re getting more and more,” Roe said. He said that, since 2006, there have been more than two dozen sexting cases connected to public and private schools in Forsyth County, yet none has been prosecuted. “A lot of them are dealt with administratively by the schools,” Roe said. “And a lot of times parents just want it dropped.” Forsyth public schools spokesperson Jennifer Caracciolo said Monday the system has had no more than 10 sexting cases in the past four years. She said disciplinary action against the students has ranged from suspension from school for 10 days up to a full year. Forsyth County prosecutor Marsha Mullen said it’s difficult to prosecute the cases because the punishment, according to state law, does not fit the crime. It’s too severe. The law, Mullen said, was intended for adults trafficking in child pornography, not for teenagers sending around pictures of one another. In addition, she said, when investigators pursue sexting cases, parents often protest. “They worry about what it will do to their children and their family’s reputation,” Mullen said. One case of sexting about three years ago involved seven middle school students and illustrates how hard it is to establish jurisdiction in sexting cases, and then how difficult it is to prosecute them, said Mullen. In this case‚which prosecutors dubbed “The Middle School Seven,” the teens sent naked images from a slumber party, meaning the school couldn’t discipline them. Then parents wanted the whole matter dismissed, said Mullen, because they didn’t want to put teens through the ordeal of prosecution or the public humiliation. Instead, the students were required individually to attend sessions on “boundaries” and what’s proper and improper conduct, said Mullen. Next year, when Roe gave his sexting presentation to the same school — even though the seven kids were not identified — some parents complained to Mullen’s office that their children were singled out and used as an example. But, overall, said Mullen the education program is paying off: “There’s more awareness of the dangers now than there was a year ago.” J. Tom Morgan, a former DeKalb County district attorney now in private practice who has defended teens in sexting cases, recalled a case in which a group of three 16-year-old girls from DeKalb photographed a friend in the shower and put her pictures on Facebook. Morgan, who represented the victim, advised her to handle the issue outside of court. Otherwise, he said, her friends could have been charged with felony Internet child pornography, punishable by 20 years in prison, and required to register as sex offenders. While Forsyth’s effort is thought to be the most ambitious in metro Atlanta, other school systems do offer education programs. Fulton Countys schools, for example, limit Internet sex crime education to parents through ocassional “Lunch and Learn” sessions. Cobb’s Prevention and Intervention Department spreads the word on Internet safety to parents and students, as does Gwinnett, where information is offered at PTA meetings, on the system’s website, and in the student discipline handbook. Stan Hall, who directs the Victim Witness Unit in the Gwinnett district attorney’s office, is working on a program that he plans to offer to the school system. “It is an important topic,” Hall said. “It can start out very much as a joke and the next thing you know, the whole student body is involved.” In Forsyth prosecutor Mullen said every case of sexting is different, and so the punishment should vary. “One way to look at it is these people are just playing doctor, just not in the same room,” said Mullen. “Do we want them in the same room showing body parts to each other? In some ways at least it’s a safer version of doctor. At least they’re showing them from miles away.” Dowling with the GBI said the first time she heard the term “sexting” was two years ago. She’s not sure whether it’s on the increase. But she said a recent survey shows 4 percent of teens have sent sext messages, and that’s encouraging. “That means 96 percent haven’t,” she said. Andria Simmons contributed to this article.

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