Illustrating the absurd nature of the state, a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota has been charged with felony child pornography charges after she took pictures of herself and sent them to her boyfriend.
The teen was “sexting” someone she knew, who then took a screenshot of the image, and passed it around among friends. After someone brought the image to the police, the girl was charged. Now the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for the court to drop the charges against the minor.
ACLU’s legal director, Teresa Nelson, filed a brief with the court, asking the court to dismiss the charges on the basis that the child cannot be charged as a criminal since it was she who is the victim of the actions of another. She wrote the girl, “cannot criminally use or victimize herself,” meaning she was not coerced, threatened or intimidated into child pornography. She sent the image of her own volition to another person.
“To suggest that a juvenile who sends a sexually explicit selfie is a victim of her own act of child pornography is illogical,” Nelson said. “Child pornography laws are supposed to protect minors from predators, and Jane Doe is not a predator.”
In Nelson’s mind, the problem is with Minnesota law, not the actions of the child. Minnesota’s legal system does not distinguish child pornography from simple sexting, and treats sexting among minors as child porn.
The purpose of the law is to protect people who are victimized, to protect children who are victimized…We don’t have a victim in this case. She was not coerced. She was not creating child pornography of someone else.
The thought that a 14-year-old would be labeled as a child pornographer and have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life is an enigma to some who see the broader implications of a conviction. “I think the person who sent the picture to everyone else should be charged with child pornography,” said Kathy, a member of the community.
However, even charging the other student—who is presumably also a minor—with disseminating the image is a delicate balancing act. Sending one image is also not the same as the production of child pornography meant to capitalize on the sale of illicit material. How can law enforcement protect children, and at the same time bring child pornographers to justice? The very serious question has few right answers according to those who attempt to answer it.
For starters, the government should adhere to its own time-honored traditions of not charging minors as adults. Should the 14-year-old be convicted of child pornography, and placed in adult prison, she would be surrounded by hardened criminals who would most likely take advantage of her innocence. If the child had not been harmed enough by having her naked image spread around town, going to prison at such a young age will undoubtedly be a more horrific, traumatizing experience.
The family’s upset…This could have a devastating effect on her life.
Nelson’s contention the girl’s actions constituted a “victimless crime” may resonate with the court, or it may have no effect on the outcome of the trial and charges. However, at any rate, the story of one teen’s fight for freedom from prison and freedom from being branded and labeled a child pornographer, also serves another purpose.
“I think this is a teachable moment for educators, for parents, to talk to her about the consequences,” Nelson said. “It’s a cautionary tale, and probably a call to action for the legislature to update our law to make it clear that, in this situation, kids shouldn’t be charged with felonies for creating material of themselves that they share.”
As TFTP has reported, the courts have a sordid history of charging children for adult crimes and prosecuting them in adult court. In Arizona, for example, teenagers caught with marijuana paraphernalia and weed residue can be and are routinely charged as adults with felony possession of marijuana, no matter if the only plant material is enough to fit underneath one’s fingernail.
When it comes to smartphones, there is really no limit to the number of federal crimes with which people can be charged. The images are can never be deleted, one’s search history never goes away, and at any moment, police can search someone’s phone—often without a warrant—to be able to charge anyone, anytime, with nearly any prosecutable offense.
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