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Eagle Point teens cited in 'sexting' episode

An investigation of three Eagle Point teenagers who have been cited for sending sexually explicit photos of minors by text message has been handed over to a Jackson County sex crimes team made up of multiple agencies and disciplines, according to Eagle Point police.

The two teenage boys and one teenage girl face possible felony charges of encouraging child sex abuse while allegedly engaging in what is known in popular culture as "sexting."

The sex crimes investigative team is set to meet today, said Eagle Point Police Chief David Strand.

The three Eagle Point teens sent the photos to an unknown number of students at Eagle Point High School.

"A lot of kids saw the images," Strand said. "I don't know if the number gets into the hundreds, but it was a lot."

Eagle Point School Resource Officer Heidi Kazakoss found out about the photos about six weeks ago from conversations with students, Strand said.

"This is the first time we've been aware of it, but I imagine it's been going on for some time," Strand said.

"We just didn't have the occasion to find out about it. The school resource officer got wind of it and delved into it right away."

Sexting is against the law in Oregon and can result in felony charges of encouraging sex abuse or using a child in display of sexually explicit content, regardless of the age of the suspect.

"Any time you take (such) a photo of a minor or send it, even if it's by consent and even if it's of yourself, it is against the law because no one can legally consent until they're 18," said Ernie Whiteman, a school resource officer in the Medford School District.

The news comes as the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey Tuesday indicating that about 4 percent of cellphone owners age 12 to 17 have sent sexually suggestive, nude or nearly nude photos or videos of themselves to someone else via text. About 15 percent of respondents in the same age group said they had received sexually suggestive images of someone they know via text.

Whiteman said sexting is on the rise nationwide but doesn't necessarily come to the attention of authorities unless someone reports it, which rarely happens.

He said he warns students about sexting when he gives talks on precautions against date rape and sex abuse.

"I tell them it's against the law," he said. "A lot of kids wouldn't even consider doing it, but obviously there are some who do."

Teenagers often don't consider the consequences of distributing such pictures, Whiteman said.

"If kids are going to have cell phones, their parents need to sit down and say, 'Use this responsibly,'" Strand said. "Not only is this embarrassment on the children, but it's an embarrassment on the family. To do that to your family is just ridiculous. For whatever reason people do it, and not just here but all over."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.