As unnerving and concerning as it sounds, the fact is that teen sexting has become a grave issue not only for the parents but also for law enforcement authorities as they often find it difficult to deal with the situation in case something goes wrong.
According to a recent survey from Cyberbullying Research Center around 12% of teens between 12 and 17 years age sent their sexually explicit photo to someone in their lifetime and 4% of them have done so in the past month. The latest incident involving a teenage girl being charged with the creation of child pornography is a clear proof that sexting is a dangerous act that can lend kids and teens into great trouble.
Minnesota selfie case
In Minnesota, a fourteen-year-old girl is being charged for sexting, which falls under the category of sexual crimes. Reportedly, the teenage girl sent an explicit selfie of hers to a boy at her school, which prosecutors claim is a violation of Minnesota’s child pornography statute. Sexting is a broad term that refers to various behaviors from exchanging/sending sexually explicit text messages to suggestive videos and pictures.
It is worth noting that under the statute, distribution of sexually explicit photographs of underage subjects is banned. However, in this scenario, the girl, who is being referred to as Jane Doe, sent her own picture to a boy whom she knew very well, yet, the accused is facing charges in Minnesota juvenile courts.
ACLU to the rescue
This is simply ridiculous, claims a legal brief filed [PDF] by the ACLU of Minnesota; it is absurd that a teen is being charged for taking an explicit selfie because it is akin to the state charging a victim for nudity as it is exactly what the law says.
According to the legal brief from ACLU, the accused sent an explicit selfie to a classmate via phone-based messaging application Snapchat and the recipient took a screenshot of the message and shared it with other schoolmates without the consent of the girl. Faribault, Minnesota police was alerted by a classmate and this is how the whole matter came to the limelight.
The ACLU is worried because officials are charging the accused for “felony sex offense of knowingly disseminating pornographic work involving a minor to another person,” a crime for which an adult would get up to seven to ten years jail time if convicted. Though the circumstances are different since this particular case involves a teen girl, therefore the sentence might not be as harsh but it is concerning for the ACLU that the girl would be placed on a sex offender registry if found guilty. This would indeed be devastating for the accused of getting a job or a house will not be easy for her in the future.
Jane Doe claims that she is being victimized by the state. “I’m not a criminal for taking a selfie. Sexting is common among teens at my school, and we shouldn’t face charges for doing it. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’m going through,” the accused stated.
As per the Minnesota statute 617,247, the purpose of child pornography law is to “protect minors from the physical and psychological damage caused by their being used in pornographic work depicting sexual conduct which involves minors.” But, in this case, whether the law is applicable or not that is the whole issue. Apparently, the state is applying the law in a wrong manner since the image in question was sent by the girl with consent to a boy she liked.
The case currently is being heard in Rice County juvenile court. Since the case involves a teenager, therefore, critical details of the case haven’t been made public such as the accused’s name and whether the accused took a photo or a video and if the boy has also been charged or not. What we do know is that the girl went to a school in Southern Minnesota.
It is also claimed by the ACLU that sexting is protected by the First Amendment because virtual child pornography was allowed while exploitation of actual children was prohibited by law, which means charging a teen for explicit selfies is itself in violation of the First Amendment, noted ArsTechnica. Moreover, it was illogical to file a case and accuse a teenager on grounds that the girl coerced herself into the creation of pornographic content because it will create another issue of limiting the expressive rights of teens.
The ACLU wrote in its legal brief: sending an explicit selfie to a peer “to indicate romantic or sexual interest, the same compelling risk of physical and psychological injury does not exist. Thus, the statute infringes upon constitutionally-protected speech.” But going by the understanding of Minnesota officials, this is a case of child pornography and the teen girl could easily be classified as a child pornographer.
This is a developing story, stay tuned.