Telephone calls about local teenagers involved in sexting, the practice of transmitting sexually explicit material via cellphones or other electronic devices, are becoming more frequent, the director of an Altoona social service agency said Tuesday.
The calls are generally from people, sometimes school personnel, seeking advice on what to do, said Cheryl Gonsman, director of marketing and education at Family Services Inc.
Her most recent call concerned two 14-year-olds who were sexting.
"It's becoming an epidemic," she said.
Gonsman mentioned her concern Tuesday while addressing Blair County commissioners about Sexual Assault Awareness Month and events to draw attention to crimes such as rape, indecent assault and stalking. Commissioners issued a proclamation commending those who engage in efforts to address the ongoing community issue.
In late 2012, Pennsylvania lawmakers attempted to address the practice of sexting by minors by reducing the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor or summary offense, while still sending a message that the practice is illegal.
While police in Blair County have not reported filing criminal charges in teen sexting cases, charges have been filed elsewhere.
State police in Huntingdon County said last week that they issued citations to eight male teenagers at Southern Huntingdon County High School in Cromwell Township, after school district administrators called them to investigate the claims.
The boys, between 13 and 15 years old, allegedly used cellphones to send explicit photographs to eight girls, hoping the girls would send nude photos to them, police said.
Almost two weeks ago, state police in Carlisle, near Harrisburg, charged four teenagers with summary charges related to sexting. That case reportedly started when a 16-year-old teen sent a nude photograph of herself to a 14-year-old girl who then showed the photo to a 13-year-old boy who photographed it with his phone. The boy then sent the nude girl's photo to another 13-year-old boy who showed it to others, police said.
Gonsman said the calls she receives about sexting are not from any specific school or specific area. She said the calls are linked to students at both public and private schools.
"Because of the new law, I'm referring [the callers] to their police department and I'm urging them to get the parents involved," Gonsman said.
She also advises parents to check their teenager's phones for photographs and to be aware of SnapChat, a computer application which permits a user to send photographs and videos that self-destruct soon after opening. Despite that feature, websites offer potential ways to retrieve SnapChat photos so they can be viewed again and transmitted.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.