When Flirting Becomes Pornography
A 14-year-old New Jersey girl faces charges of child pornography for posting nude pictures of herself on MySpace, and if convicted she could be forced to register as a sex offender. Apparently, the young lady posted the photos so her boyfriend could see them.
The teen, whose name has not been released because of her age, was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography and distribution of child pornography. She was released to her mother's custody.
If convicted of the distribution charge, she would be forced to register with the state as a sex offender under Megan's Law, said state Attorney General Anne Milgram. She also could face up to 17 years in jail, though such a stiff sentence is unlikely.
While this certainly violates MySpace's terms of service, many feel this hardly warrants such aggressive legal intervention. Nevertheless, the trend of minors sharing nude photos with one another has come under increasing scrutiny in the past couple years.
Earlier in March, a 15-year-old girl in Mason, Ohio was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, after authorities found nude pictures of her on a classmate’s phone. Her friend was busted using his cell phone in school, and when school officials confiscated his phone, they looked through it and found explicit pictures of the girl.
Under Ohio law, anyone who either creates or possesses images of juveniles' genitals or juveniles involved in sex acts could face felony-level offenses. Obviously, this is borne from good, reasonable intentions. But as Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel points out, "the statute has not caught up with the technology."
Indeed, this trend has been going on for years; from the moment cameras were attached to mobile phones, people started taking and sending naked pictures of themselves. "Sexting" has been gaining in popularity with people of all ages, as cell phones grow more sophisticated and accessible. People doing so run the risk of their photos being distributed beyond their control.
Parents should know that sexting, while unacceptable and illicit, is "a normal way" for hormone-charged teenagers to express themselves, said Christopher Ferguson, a psychology professor at Texas A&M International University. Ferguson studies how media and technology affect youth.
Because of the laws made to protect children from sexual exploitation, youngsters caught doing the same thing their parents or older siblings do can face felony charges. The idea is that these pictures can easily end up in the hands of adults.
"Kids should be taught that sharing digitized images of themselves in embarrassing or compromised positions can have bad consequences, but prosecutors should not be using heavy artillery like child-pornography charges to teach them that lesson," said Witold Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "These are just kids being irresponsible and careless; they are not criminals."
Walczak has filed a suit against Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. for violating the First Amendment rights, after three teenage girls were charged with child pornography for using their cell phones to take and send semi-nude photographs of themselves.