Some say a picture is worth a thousand words. However, sometimes a picture can leave you speechless.
Senior Detective James Hatch of the Erie County Sheriff office feels that way every time he sees the sexually explicit evidence from his latest "sexting" case.
Detective Hatch has worked for the Erie County Sheriffs office for over 28 years and has a great deal of experience with sexting cases.
"Sexting is the sending and receiving of sexually explicit pictures or text messages," Hatch said. "And it becomes a concern of the Sheriffs office when one of more of the participants is under the age of 17."
A term popularized by MTV, modern sitcoms and the lyrics of Ludacris, Jason Derulo, Beyonce, Trey Songz, and Soulja Boy – sexting has now infiltrated pop culture.
Played off as harmless fun, sexting is a common element of modern flirtation and is not unusual for most people to engage in.
Darius, a junior African American studies major who prefers to not have his last name mentioned, says he will occasionally ask a girl to send him a sext message.
"Yeah, I'm a guy so obviously I would ask," Darius said. "I mean a lot of girls don't have a problem sending a picture. I don't see a problem with it; it's just fun."
Darius admits that while he would never tell the girl, he will frequently share the picture with some of his close friends.
"It's like a pride thing," Darius said. "Obviously, if a wicked hot girl sends you a picture, you're going to want to brag and show your friends."
What most rap songs and TV shows fail to mention, however, is the social and criminal implications of participating in sexting.
For students like Elizabeth, a freshman sociology major who would also like her last name withheld, the consequences of sexting are all too real.
"I thought that my boyfriend and I were going to get married," Elizabeth said. "So when he asked me to send him a picture of me topless, I really didn't think much of it."
However, when Elizabeth and her boyfriend of three years broke up last May, she came to seriously regret her decision of taking a compromising picture.
"I was out with some friends and I ended up getting drunk and making out with one of his friends," Elizabeth said. "My boyfriend found out and broke up with me. The next morning, I had about 20 text messages from all these people telling me that Aaron had forwarded all the people in his contact list the picture."
Elizabeth, who was over the age of 17 at the time the picture was taken, couldn't press charges because what Aaron did was technically legal.
"I can't touch him," Elizabeth said. "I just have to live with the embarrassment of knowing that almost everyone of my friends has seen or at least heard of this picture of me. It makes me sick."
Hatch acknowledges that stories like Elizabeth's are not uncommon.
"Since I started here, I've personally handled about five or six cases of sexting and I've heard of at least 10 other local cases," Hatch said. "Most times, the cases deal with two young people who send sexually explicit text or pictures to each other. It usually involves a girl sending her boyfriend a naked picture, and after they break up, he sends the picture to everyone he knows."
Sexting becomes a matter for the police when it involves a minor, according to Hatch. In these cases, charges including possession of child pornography, distribution of child pornography and endangering the welfare of a child can be brought to the adult.
According to federal and state laws, a sexting charge may lead to a misdemeanor or a felony conviction.
Hatch, who frequently works with the Special Victims Unit in the Erie Country District Attorney's office, wants people to be aware of the serious repercussions associated with sexting.
"Depending on the severity of the crime, the individual can be charged with a misdemeanor, which is punishable with up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, or a felony which is punishable with up to ten years in prison," Hatch said. "Not to mention if you are found guilty, you can be put on the sex offender registry for five or ten years, maybe even for life."
Hatch advises students to not participate in sexting at any time.
"Sexting, [regardless of criminal implications], is one of the most stupid things I can think of a young person doing. Do not expect electronic messages or pictures of an explicit nature to remain confidential," Hatch said. "Once it's out there, it's out there and can be sent all over the world."