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Is it right to punish ‘sexting’ teens as child pornographers?

Posted by Debra White | Feb 24, 2010 | 0 Comments

Sexting, the act of sending or  receiving nude or partially nude photos of oneself or another person  via cell phone, has become a worldwide phenomenon in a short amount  of time.  If a minor engages in the act of sexting, he or she may be  prosecuted under child pornography laws.  In March of 2009, the ACLU  filed a lawsuit against the district attorney of Wyoming County,  Pennsylvania,  claiming that the civil rights of three high school girls were violated  when their pictures were discovered on other students' cell phones by  officials at the Tunkhannock School District.  The case challenges what  constitutes child pornography because the teens appear either topless  or in their underwear in the digital photos.  None of the photos in  question  depict genitals, although one of the girls appears baring her breasts.

There have been numerous legal  cases where sexting has brought the definition of what constitutes child   pornography under a spotlight.  For example, in 2008 assistant principal  Ting-Yi Oei of Freedom High School in South Riding, Virginia was charged   with possession of child pornography after he was asked to investigate  a rumor that kids were sexting at a school where he worked.  After  uncovering  a partially nude photo of a girl and reporting it back to his principal,   he was asked to save the photo on his computer for evidence.  Oei  was later charged with possession of child pornography and related  crimes.  However, the case was dropped because the images were not considered  child pornography under Virginia law because they were not “sexually  explicit.”  Nudity alone was not enough to prosecute the thirty-year  teaching veteran.  Although he was never brought to trial, Oei was forced   to spend over $150,000 to defend himself and clear his name.

Child pornography laws are put  in place to protect children against abuse and exploitation. But when  a minor photographs themselves and carelessly sends that photo to a  friend and is later accused of child pornography, the only protection  may come from a good defense attorney, or, in the case mentioned above,  by the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“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, Legal Director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “These   are just kids being irresponsible and careless; they are not criminals  and they certainly haven't committed child pornography.”

About the Author

Debra White

Attorney Debra S. White is an aggressive and talented trial attorney based in Los-Angeles, California who has successfully represented clients accused of sex crimes in both state and federal courts since 1999. Ms. White is a fierce advocate who enjoys the many challenging aspects of sex crimes defense, including defending against false accusations, faulty memories, and prosecutorial misconduct.

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