A frequent topic in the New Jersey 101.5 Town Hall series, the problem of predators receiving and distributing illicit photos and videos from minors has been a prime concern, for parents and law enforcement alike, for many years.

But what those children may not realize, according to Detective Sgt. Joseph Santamaria of the New Jersey State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Unit, is that if they are underage and pass these images back-and-forth among each other, that also constitutes child pornography.

"Obviously, when you're creating those images or videos, they are illegal, and kids are essentially manufacturing child exploitation material themselves," Santamaria said.

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A teen couple might think they are being affectionate by trading nude pictures and video, but Santamaria said the trouble with that is, if they break up, one or both parties might use the images of the other as "revenge porn," and share widely among their friends.

"Just for having it on their device is possession," Santamaria said. "If they never asked for it, that's one thing, but if we come to find out that they have it on their device and it's been on there for a while, they can essentially be charged with it."

Although there is a way to scrub such content from Google searches, it can always be downloaded and stored before it's removed from the public eye, leading Santamaria to repeat a time-worn internet adage: "Once they post something, it's out there forever."

Especially thorny is the issue of a high school or college dating relationship in which one person is 18 or older, a legal adult, and the other is younger.

Even though the age of consent in New Jersey is 16, and the courtship might be legitimate in that sense, inappropriate content featuring the younger person, possessed or distributed by the older, would also be considered child porn.

So, what can and should parents do to minimize the chances their children will send this material, or wind up with it on their devices?

Communication is the number one tool, according to Santamaria. Parents first need to familiarize themselves with the various social media apps kids use, which can be a rapidly evolving list.

Be involved, Santamaria said, but don't hover. That can lead to rebellious behavior.

And make sure that kids are aware that the rules extend beyond the walls of their parents' home.

"If they overreact, children tend to shut down and won't communicate, and then they'll go off and try to do things on their own without their parents' knowledge," Santamaria said.

Nudity isn't the only factor, either, according to Santamaria. Even if a minor trusts their intended recipient, their device's GPS could give away unwanted information in what might be thought of as an innocent file or attachment.

"'I don't see what's the harm, it's nothing inappropriate, it's just a face shot or maybe just full body shot, but I am clothed, so I'm going to go ahead and send off this picture.' They could potentially be, unknowingly, sending their location," Santamaria said.

If you suspect a child is being exploited, contact the New Jersey State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Unit at 609-584-5051, ext. 5624.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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