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Ridgewood High School nude photos: Not so fast, district officials

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: Even though authorities have threatened criminal action against Ridgewood High School students who’ve been sharing nude photos online, their options are actually limited under New Jersey law.

The teenage female images apparently were screen-captured and posted online after going up through the “Snapchat” app, which removes received photos in under 10 seconds.

In a letter to parents, Ridgewood Schools Superintendent Daniel Fishbein called the matter “a serious issue that demands a prompt and appropriate response.”

That includes an “amnesty” period set by village police:

After 7 a.m. Monday, “any student found to have created, transmitted or possessed an illegal image/movie may be charged with … serious offenses,” Fishbein said. These include “the possession and/or transmission of sexually revealing or explicit images, or any materials of that nature” involving underaged teens, which he said “constitute the very serious crimes of possession and transmission of child pornography.”

Not exactly.

CLIFFVIEW PILOT was the first to report that New Jersey in 2011 stopped treating juveniles caught “sexting” as delinquents against whom authorities could sign complaints — and, instead, began requiring them to take education courses.

Those 18 and over continue to be treated as adults and face possible criminal prosecution.

However, anyone under 18 caught passing the images for the first time — either via cell phone, email or Internet post — won’t be hauled before a Family Court judge the way minors who commit other offenses are.

Signed into law by Gov. Christie in Sept. 2011, New Jersey’s state sexting statute came in response to school officials and prosecutors nationwide cracking down on kids caught passing potentially pornographic pics. In one case, a 14-year-old girl was arrested on kiddie porn charges after uploading nude photos of herself. A judge sentenced her to probation and counseling.

New Jersey’s law, now 18 months old, created a state-sponsored educational program as an alternative to prosecution.

The objective is to create “a nuanced approach to the issue, one that recognizes that kids will do foolish things, while also creating a serious mechanism to address the problem,” state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, one of the measure’s co-sponsors, said at the time.

A 2009 survey by MTV and the Associated Press found that 24% of teens between 14-17 had been involved “in some type of naked sexting.”

Participants in New Jersey’s educational program learn about the potential state and federal legal consequences and penalties, as well as the personal costs – including the effect on relationships, its impact on school life and the loss of future employment opportunities.

It’s up to county prosecutors to determine who may be admitted. Those juveniles who successfully complete the program avoid any kind of serious trouble.

“Teens need to understand the ramifications of their actions, but they shouldn’t necessarily be treated as criminals,” state Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (Camden/Burlington) said at the time. “We need to create a path that places education and forgiveness before arrest and prosecution.

“This takes a practical approach to a confounding problem, rather than slapping a one-size-fits-all punishment on teenagers whose motives may be entirely different than adults that face similar charges,” she added. “Teens shouldn’t necessarily be treated as criminals when they’re at that age where they don’t have a full understanding of the ramifications of their actions.

“Young people – especially teen girls – need to understand that sending inappropriate pictures is not only potentially illegal, but can leave an indelible mark on them socially and educationally.  We need to create a path that places education and forgiveness before arrest and prosecution, and that’s what this law does.”

In his letter, Fishbein pledged to “to help educate the community about the legal and psychosocial implications of this activity.”

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