Court Weighs Teen Sexting and Child Pornography Charges

By Minara El-Rahman on February 10, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The first criminal case of teen sexting has reached its way to a U.S. Appeals Court. According to Reuters, is it the first U.S. case to see what the constitutional rights of sexting are. Sexting, which is a combination of the words texting and sex, is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos between cell phone users. Teen sexting is a problem because the dissemination of sexual photos of underage users can be considered child pornography.

This case involves a Wyoming County prosecutor in Pennsylvania who allegedly threatened 16 teens to participate in a "re-education" course on why sexting was wrong or face charges of child pornography. Three of the teens reportedly declined the counseling. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Wyoming County D.A. for misusing his authority by threatening to bring baseless child-pornography charges in order to coerce the teens to attend counseling. The lawsuit also claims that the criminal charges are an unconstitutional punishment against the teens and their parents for refusing to attend counseling.

The three teens that were charged with child pornography were in semi-nude photos that were sent via text message. Two of the girls appeared in training bras at the age of twelve. The mother of one of the two girls in the bras told the Los Angeles Times that the photo was taken two years ago at a slumber party. She claimed that the photo was not that provocative: "You're going to see more provocative photos in a Victoria's Secret catalog." The other photo depicts a 16 year old girl in the shower topless with a towel around her waist.

The ACLU wrote: "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. These are just kids being irresponsible and careless; they are not criminals and they certainly haven't committed child pornography."

While the D.A.'s office defends it actions by saying it protects children, the ACLU claims otherwise. Going after teens who are supposed to be protected by child pornography laws just seems harsh. All three teenage girls have claimed that they did not disseminate the photos of themselves first. The Los Angeles Times quotes Witold J. Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania's legal director as saying, "Turning them into sex offenders is an odd way to protect kids."

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