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

She's a child... And no. It's not the same as "unsolicited mail"- we both know that. It's a nude photograph. In many states there are 'revenge porn' laws that protect grown women against this sort of thing. Absolutely NOTHING, should be happening to this young girl. The boy was in the wrong for distributing- and even him, I'd defend to an extent. He is a child, not an adult distributing pornography. If, IF, he was to be charged with anything- I feel it would need to lie under something like those revenge pornography laws. He shouldn't be a registered sex offender to the distribution of child pornography. I have mixed feelings about what should happen to the boy distributing- open to others opinions. But the girl, in no way, should be charged.

Anonymous

He should be prosecuted for distribution.

Anonymous

So I assume this would still be your answer if that was your daughter?

Anonymous

You think charging a 14 year old girl with distributing child pornography is an appropriate "consequence" for sexting a kid in her same grade? The boy isn't being charged with anything - the girl is. Also, he actually DID distribute it. Sent it to his friends.

Anonymous

Showing it to others is, technically, distributing child pornography so he did commit a crime. However, calling this girl his victim, as some articles are doing, is wrong. I would never tell my daughter that she should expect a 14 year old boy to bail her out when she makes a bad decision. "Sure, dear, send as many naked pictures as you want. You can trust 14 year old boys to do the right thing with them."

Anonymous

Fuck off, idiot. People like you are why there are revenge porn laws.

Anonymous

If I receive unsolicited narcotics and then sell them, I'm still breaking the law and open to prosecution. Your logic doesn't hold up.

Anonymous

Because he made copies of the picture and distributed it... He didn't just open the photo and then delete it. He made COPIES without her consent and sent it out to others.

Anonymous

If somebody decided to send a photo of himself to another person through the internet is in the domein of privacy, this communication should be confidential and the government shouldn't interfere because is distributed between individuals in a private communication. The recepient who decided to distribute the photos without the consent of the person should be accountable for violation of privacy rights of the girl in this case and this is a serios criminal offense taking the fact that she is young. To consider this act as a child pornography done by the victim herself in this case is completly out of any logic. I am lawyer from Macedonia and I was fortunate to be an intern for ACLU in Minnesota for one month. This wouldn't be acceptable here in my country and in Europe. Following the work of ACLU I am happy that citizens of USA have this organization to defend their rights. Keep up the good work !

Anonymous

Thank you for all you said I agree with you. I remember my Mum and Dad reading The Daily Mail at breakfast, that is one if the papers if I recall corrrctly that always has a full page black and white ( Adult), nude in there amongst the articles. That is one way USA and Europe are distinctly different in a scale of oppression and the white Washington if sex, although people do have other faults and of course oppression is still systemic however the relationship between art and pornography is closer and our school systems had more art and sport when I grew up than my kids had here in U S. A . Red light districts still exist in some parts of Europe and individuals are not quite so abhorred by that, and I did not want my own Dad to go there, however all my life I thought prostitution must, among other less savory things, have saved many partnerships from breaking up or divorce. U SA has a huge tradition of Old Testament followers within our religious communities that is great in many ways for many peopl and I thank God daily for my blessings, however in modern day times the Old Testament rules are a little oppressive for some people.

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