Minnesota Prosecutor Charges Sexting Teenage Girl With Child Pornography

A 14-year-old Minnesota girl is fighting criminal charges that have the potential to destroy her future, including her ability to obtain housing, to enroll in college programs, and even to pursue some career paths. Her case does not involve harm to others. It does not involve damage to property. And it does not have anything to do with illegal substances.

Rather her young life could be ruined all because she sent an explicit Snapchat of herself to a boy she liked.

In the case, Jane Doe used the phone-based application Snapchat to send a revealing selfie to a boy at her school in Southern Minnesota. He went on to make a copy and distribute it to other students without Jane’s permission. Even though Jane didn’t victimize anybody, Rice County’s prosecutor charged her with felony distribution of child pornography. A conviction, or even a guilty plea to a lesser charge, would require Jane to spend 10 years on the sex offender registry.

Sending sexually suggestive text messages and explicit photos or videos of oneself has become so commonplace that it has a name — sexting. Conservative estimates on the prevalence of adolescent sexting are that 12 percent of adolescents aged 12-17 have sent an explicit image of themselves to another person at some point in their life. A 2012 survey by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) of 18-year-olds found 30 percent had sent nude pictures during high school, and 45 percent had received them.

We can all agree that sexual abuse of children is abhorrent and that our criminal laws should punish that abuse. And an important means of combatting sexual abuse of children is to prosecute those who create, possess, and disseminate works that are a permanent record of that abuse.

In Minnesota, two statutes criminalize the creation, possession, and dissemination of child pornography. The policy and purpose behind Minnesota’s 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” and “to protect the identity of minors who are victimized by involvement in the pornographic work, and to protect minors from future involvement in pornographic work depicting sexual conduct.”

Rather her young life could be ruined all because she sent an explicit Snapchat of herself to a boy she liked.

The purpose of the law — protecting children — matters when it comes to laws that impose criminal penalties for speech. For instance, laws that criminalize adult pornography violate the First Amendment.

But in New York v. Ferber, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that distributing child pornography is interconnected with the sexual abuse of children because the material is a permanent record of the abuse and its distribution perpetuates a market for the production of material that requires the sexual exploitation of children. Because the purpose of criminalizing child pornography is to protect the “physiological, emotional, and mental health of the child” victim, they are not the same as bans on adult pornography. Therefore, child pornography bans are allowable under the First Amendment.

But what about when there is no victim? In 2002, in a case called Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, the Supreme Court struck down a law prohibiting “virtual” child pornography produced without victimizing actual children because the law did not have the same child protection justification found in Ferber.

Jane created the sext of her own body. She was not an exploited child victim. She was exhibiting normal adolescent behavior in the digital age.

Learning to think of oneself as a sexual being and dealing with sexual feelings is an important part of adolescence, and sexual experimentation is one aspect of the “trying on” of different personalities and new behaviors that is necessary to the process of identity development, according to Dr. Jennifer Woolard, an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University. Or as Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists Dr. Lynn E. Ponton and Dr. Samuel Judice put it, “[T]hrough experimentation and risk-taking ... adolescents develop their identity and discover who they will be.”

And even if Jane could be considered an exploited child victim, punishing her will not “protect” her. It will only cause her more harm. Harm that will follow her throughout her adult life.

It is nonsensical to suggest that Jane is both a victim and the perpetrator of her own abuse. Her attorney has asked the court to dismiss the charges, and the ACLU of Minnesota has filed an amicus brief in support of that motion. We asked the court to recognize the constitutional problems with punishing Jane and pointed to the growing national consensus around the idea that adolescent sexting should not be addressed through oppressive criminal prosecutions.

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Anonymous

I hear your concerns and I advocate for youth smart justice and prison reform however we live amongst individuals that do sex of fences. We have a jail and prison system that propagates repeat offenses and is designed in a way that crimes are committed within these jails and prisons by staff, and our system creates precursors within the incarcerated population for worse crimes than their original offense. So we need to create an alternative system of compassion where punishment is not the goal as much as rehabilitation towards a healthier value system , leading to healthier choices and behaviors.

Anonymous

Problem with the sentiment in this article ( Which is interesting and has good intentions), is. that the argument for this girl in this blog and article is the same argument young sex offenders parents and young sex offenders have when their crime was not violent. So what makes this girl and this boy so very special that they deserve such lenience? My considerations for the young people in this article and my disgust at our judicial system make my argument harsher than I wish to be , and that is a huge flaw in our country which needs huge attention please. Because if your sons and daughters get into one of our private prisons systems you will wish that you had put some time into the larger issue of corruption in our systems and I see that this is not our youths fault, our communities made these vile prisons and our corporations and banks invest in them so as a community we are the ones who have to make a more respectful judicial system and have higher expectations of the same. We cannot just criticize them without a reformative model and we have to examine other judicial systems that have less racividism.

Anonymous

I agree that this behavior in adolescents should not be punished through oppressive criminal Proscecutions but the problem is a larger one than this. Why do we have such an oppressive judicial system? Why pick this crime? ( Although I appreciate you for doing so). Get all the grandmothers and family members and weed smokers out of our prisons. End the private prison systems. Make our jails and prisons truly therapeutic and stop staffing them with people who believe that punishment in and of itself is in any way a positively transformative process.

Anonymous

This is America. We want spectacle and hurt. That's the bottom line and that's why this will never happen.

Anonymous

USA whitewashes sex and sexuality. USA as a society is repressed. However when working with adolescent sex offenders as a counselor in a treatment program many of them had done “Victimless internet crimes, and victimless non-touch sex crimes”. Thes adolescent secters are doing more than many youth who spent years incarcerated for sexual offenses” . One precursor to “ sex offending” . Is isolation, anither is “ No available persons of similar age of the sexual orientatation the youth is attracted to available. The way that works could be isolation due to personality or isolation due to remote living or Tribal living in a Tyrone where almost everyone is “ Off limits” due to the clan system and population numbers. So in some Tribes I’ve serviced there are 4 clans and one can only marry into aa duferrant one of those four clans so that means for the children there’s less choice of partner than in the Dominant community surrounding them. I’m not justifying any sexual offense. I am pointing out that if we are protecting these adolescent sextets then why not move towards helping a larger umbrella of young offenders? Thanks for an awesome article and thanks for those who are not whitewashing here. I am speaking to equal justice for all. Native Americans inherited some of the mist isolated and stark also many beautiful remote areas as reservation and live under 6% below the dominant cultures poverty level . Boredom, unemployment and poverty alcohol and illicit drug use abound in this country and most reservations ive serviced. People in poverty and those who are mentally ill smoke more, poor people have more sex as they have time on there hands. Most remote reservations have one grocery store period and vast acres of canyon land and isolation dangerous roads and non investigated crimes( not always by the Native people who live there. Yes I agree with why adolescents sext but let’s change the oppressive need to whitewash sex and sexual orientation, stop oppressing the poor and the brown and Native people. Many of the peopl I’ve serviced had no doors on the bedrooms at home as children and no running water still today. Many inter familiar babies, and multiple and also remote pregnancies are a challenge. I am glad however that the five year difference between partners under 18 is enforced a I do not agree with any form of child or adolescent abuse. Study the Nordic judicial system, the difference there is society demands that loosing your freedom is the punishment . So prisons goals are different at the beginning point due to the goals of the community for a better stronger and more sustainable society. Our society needs to expect far more of our prison systems than punishment itself.

Anonymous

dont send nudes

Anonymous

prosecutors are lawyers who are also politicians/ they are always looking for news coverage, notoriety and to further careers. more proof lawyers are not good people they no longer seem to have any ethics. and more proof there too many allowed to go to law school.

Anonymous

We cannot and should not agree that child porn laws are justified in any capacity, especially in cases like this.

It's more than a little morbidly ironic that some pedantic exercise in "protecting" this girl or anyone else is being used to inflict horrific and permanent harm on her.

Nor are other cases much different in practical reality. A Google search is not exploitation of anyone, is not "contributing" to anything (as if anyone would even know about it if not for a prosecution) and certainly is not worth of our time and attention. Gross? Sure. A crime? Hardly. And it's hardly consistent with established constitutional rights, the Ohio case notwithstanding. I might be more tempted to say "With all the horrors of the world, who cares?". Except there is clearly nothing like even being accused of something like this, let alone a conviction. In many ways the penalties are worse than for murder.

We should not engage in this senseless brutality or accept an author that says we

someone3363

Who is stupid enough to send a photo like that? Thotha!?

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