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After his former girlfriend taunted him, Phillip Alpert remembered the nude photos she e-mailed to him while they were dating.

He took revenge with an electronic blast — e-mailing the photos of the 16-year-old girl to more than 70 people, including her parents, grandparents and teachers.

Three days later, Alpert, then 18, was charged with transmitting child pornography. Today Alpert is serving five years of probation for the crime, and he is registered as a sex offender — a label he must carry at least until he is 43.

“I didn’t know how bad of a decision it was,” Alpert, now 19, said recently at his MetroWest apartment. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

Alpert is one of many people across the country who are being charged with felonies and getting sentenced as sex offenders for doing something their friends do all the time, unaware of potential criminal charges.

One national study found that as many as 20 percent of teens have sent or posted nude or seminude photos of themselves in what has become known as “sexting.” Young teens are using high-tech phones to text, post or e-mail racy photos — technically child porn. Most do it for fun.

But getting caught means being kicked off sports teams and facing expulsion from school. Others are going to jail.
Troubling trend
“It’s become a troubling trend,” said Marisa Nightingale, senior adviser for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which conducted the study. “Since the beginning of time, teens have flirted with each other and pushed the envelope. But 10 to 15 years ago, it didn’t go global in 30 seconds.”

Lawrence Walters, an Orlando attorney who practices First Amendment and Internet law, has been following the sexting trend as it has been emerging across the country.

“It’s a new phenomena,” Walters said. “Kids shouldn’t be doing this — shouldn’t be engaging in this type of behavior. But using these harsh criminal laws for child pornography is a bit of overkill.”

Just last month, a 15-year-old Pennsylvania girl was charged with creating child pornography for sending images of herself via MySpace to a 27-year-old man.

Also last month, a “Brevard County” teen was jailed after forwarding a cell-phone picture of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend’s naked breasts to another teen. The girlfriend allowed the photo to be taken while the two were dating, police said.

Bryce Dixon, 18, told investigators he sent the photo because he thought the girl had cheated on him with his best friend. He said he knew that sending the photo would make her mad.

A judge set Dixon’s bail at $140,000 for charges he faced, including transmission of child pornography. Dixon, who remains in jail, and his family declined to talk to the