An anonymous Web page filled with nude photos is highlighting the dangers of teenage "sexting" and may ultimately lead to criminal charges.
Students at Weston's Cypress Bay High School believe one or more of their classmates to be responsible for the lurid website, which features more than a dozen sexually explicit photos of teenage girls. The site identifies them as Cypress Bay students — and in some cases, lists their names.
"That's playing with people's lives," said Cypress Bay senior Matthew Gio, 17.
The Broward's Sheriff's Office is investigating the website as possible child pornography.
In the past couple of days, the Internet photos have gone viral, with the link shared rapidly via Twitter. Many of Cypress Bay's roughly 4,300 students pulled up the images on their smartphones — while still in the building.
It all amounted to a very public humiliation for this group of girls, who are primarily freshmen.
One of the photographed girls was spotted openly weeping at school; another abruptly walked out of class after an onslaught of stares and whispers.
"Oh gosh, it's so horrible," said Cherie Benjoseph, co-founder of the KidSafe Foundation, a South Florida-based nonprofit that works to protect children from exploitation and abuse.
Benjoseph said parents and schools can do a better job of teaching children and teens how to protect themselves online. For example, the importance of self-respect and personal boundaries could be incorporated into schools' sex education classes, and parents can make it a point to scroll through their child's smartphone.
The Broward School District referred all calls about the incident to BSO.
To be sure, the 21st-century phenomenon of "sexting," sending explicit photos via text, isn't limited to teens. Celebrities such as actress Vanessa Hudgens have watched in horror as leaked naked photos go viral on the Internet. Hudgens recently called her own photo scandal "by far the worst moment of my career."
There's always the chance that such pictures will leak out. In the case of minors, there's the added complications of child pornography laws, and the fact that teenage brains are wired to be more reckless than adults.
At Cypress Bay, the photo fallout may linger for years. Benjoseph worries the affected teens "will want to hurt themselves. They will feel that this is not something that they can tolerate and live with ... unless they have incredibly strong support. It's very sad. It's heartbreaking."
On Twitter, where news of the photos traveled fast and furiously, comments ranged from sympathetic ("Wow. Feel bad for the girls," one person wrote) to the you-brought-it-on-yourself variety.
"Exactly why I always say girls shouldn't send nudes," tweeted Kiki Estévez. "Once it's SENT, they can do WHATEVER they want with it."
Some Twitter users in fact forwarded the photos — apparently unaware that doing so could make them a target for criminal prosecution.
Janet Johnson, a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, said adults who tweeted the photos or even forwarded the website link could wind up facing longer jail time than the teens who actually posted the pictures online. A key reason: Those teenagers, while still potentially facing the charge of disseminating child porn, would likely be tried in a more lenient juvenile court proceeding.