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Teen accused of IM harassment

A Boston-area teen has had his instant messaging wings clipped following charges that he used the medium to threaten girls and their families.

A Boston-area teen has had his instant messaging wings clipped following charges that he used the medium to harass girls and their families.

Under the terms of a pretrial probation agreement signed Monday by the unidentified teen and others involved in the case, the resident of North Reading, Mass., risks criminal prosecution if he engages in "unsupervised" use of IM and other computing applications, according to the North Reading Police Department.

Monday's agreement did not bring the end of the teen's legal problems, however. Yesterday, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly announced civil proceedings against the teen, alleging that he violated the civil rights of the girls and women he targeted.

The attorney general is seeking an injunction that would further restrain the teen's computer use, preventing him from using IM or e-mail to contact the six alleged victims.

A hearing on the attorney general's motion is scheduled for May 24 in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge, Mass.

The civil case marks the first time the state has brought such charges against someone based on their IM correspondence, said a representative for the attorney general.

"These are gender-based threats and intimidation," said Ann Donlan, a spokeswoman for Reilly's office. "In cases where there are racial epithets or other hate crimes, like gay-bashing and that sort of thing, that's when we invoke the civil rights law. We do it when we need to and the facts and circumstances fit a crime that is based on a particular bias covered under the law."

While the teen's alleged harassment of the girls began with a letter last fall, it was only with a series of instant messages in January that the girls filed charges with the authorities.

"These are serious allegations that involve the use of a computer to threaten and intimidate these students and one of their mothers by continually subjecting them to violent and sexually explicit messages that had them in fear for their safety," Reilly said in a statement. "The technology may be new, but the outcome is the same."