Protection Gone Terribly Wrong: Baseless Child-Pornography Charges Against Teenage Girls In Pennsylvania

(Originally posted on Feministing.)

On Wednesday, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against Wyoming County (PA) district attorney George Skumanick, Jr., for threatening three high school girls with child pornography charges over digital photos of themselves in which they appear topless or in their underwear. Skumanick asserted that the girls were accomplices to the production of child pornography because they allowed themselves to be photographed. The threatened charges of sexual abuse of a minor could come with jail time and registration as sex offenders

Which seems even more extreme when you consider that Skumanick has not threatened to charge the individuals who distributed the photos in the first place. It also seems a little counter-intuitive, since child pornography laws are meant to protect children from being exploited, where as charging them with a felony and potentially subjecting them to being on a sex offender registry hardly seems protective.

Neither of the two photos in question depicts sexual activity or reveals anything below the waist.

One is a picture taken two years ago at a slumber party showing Marissa Miller (now 15) and her friend Grace Kelly from the waist up, both wearing white bras. The other depicts Nancy Doe (a pseudonym used to protect the girl’s real identity) standing outside a shower with a bath towel wrapped around her body beneath her breasts.

Skumanick actually offered the girls a deal. If they didn’t want to face charges, they could be placed on probation, subject to random drug testing, and attend a six- to nine-month re-education program dealing with pornography and sexual violence. The D.A. explained the objectives of that program in a letter he sent home to the parents. They include gaining “an understanding of what it means to be a girl in today’s society, both advantages and disadvantages,” and identifying “non-traditional societal and job roles.”

While our clients recognized the D.A.’s actions as a violation of their First and Fourth Amendment rights and turned to the ACLU for legal assistance, they were not the only ones offered this “choice” by Skumanick. 17 other students, 13 girls and 4 boys, accepted the deal from the D.A., including one girl who was shown in pictures in a bikini. Her parents asked the D.A. why on earth that would be child porn, and he said it was because she was "posed provocatively."

Vic Walczak, Legal Director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement:

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…These are just kids being irresponsible and careless; they are not criminals and they certainly haven't committed child pornography.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU charges that Skumanick is misusing his authority by threatening to bring baseless child-pornography charges in order to coerce parents into sending their children to the re-education program and putting them on probation. It also claims this is a form of unconstitutional retaliation against the parents and children who assert their right not to be bullied into participation. The ACLU is asking the federal court to issue an order prohibiting the district attorney from filing criminal charges against the girls.

In a hearing today in the U.S. District Court in Scranton, Judge James Munley gave D.A. Skumanick until tomorrow to file a brief.

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Sex Offender Issues

http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com

No I do not think young kids doing this, nor those experimenting with sex and just being kids, should be labeled a sex offender and potentially their lives ruined before they start. But, if they are able to be charged with a sex crime and labeled a child molester, then why not for producing and distributing child porn? Maybe when a lot of kids are caught up in this mess, then the legislature will see the mess they have created!

A taste of his ...

What an embarrassment to "PA Law." Doesn't this public "serpent" have some bad guys to pursue? While the ACLU is at it, perhaps it should file a lawsuit against the prosecutor -- for official malfeasance, abuse of authority and character defamation. Now THAT would really serve as a deterrent to the real crime here.

Upset

What cause prostitution? What cause people to be homosexual? What cause people to become sex offenders? What cause all the ailments of this planet?
The gods that people worship. They are worms from space that live in people and control the hosts. Since they are maggots, and hook worms, and all type of parasites that control the people but cannot be seen to be punished, the people have to pay for the gods of the 13 tribes of Israel and of Judah.

The gods of Asia are killer worms that demand sacrifice and that pretend to be holy in order to eat their victims. HOw can something good live in something bad. The gods of the Jews pretend to be good while they are the ones that cause people to be bad.

The only way for these worms to be annihilated is that flame planet become flame planet again and annihilated these worms of existence.

The doctors use the motto: Don't ask, don't tell. That makes all doctors assassins. The scientists are also Hus servants of the worms. People have to pay for the dead which the hus know very well that it is the gods who gave them their wealth that keep making all people killing each other in other to feed themselves.

The planets that we called stars are ships that quarantine this planet because of these killer worms. I heard that these worms planned to go to Mars, and other planets. What do they want to do. They are bacteria that invade not only the planet but every inhabitants as well.

Are you the Hus that are killing people for power as well. America is a lure that the worm gods of the Jews created after stealing the planet from the other inhabitants in order to always have servants, foods, and hosts.

This planet needs to be sanitize and or annihilated by its original inhabitant: Flame.

Isn't it time to stop the hypocrisy and stop putting people in jail and accusing people of things that they gods of the Jews do to people.

Someone need to sue the gods of the Jews for killing innocent people. The gods of the Jews have decimated my family. The Jewish Bible cause roaches, worms, moths, spiders to live in people's house. Wherever the Hu Bible is there live roaches, worms, spiders, moths, dragonfly, mice, rats, and all things that feed on the dead.

Why do we have birds on this planet? Birds eat worms and the religious inhabitants of this planet is full of worms which they call "holy Spirits". When you see birds, know that the birds see worms: Religious people.

The planet become warp and nasty because the worms eat people who are greedy and who not only sold their families to killer worms they name gods, but people they don't know as well.

When there is war, wherever there is death, what profit? The worms and the animals that eat the dead.
The religious books say clearly that the worms eat people. I need to know if I can sue the Jews for feeding my family to their gods which they force on everyone and that they deceived everyone into serving their killer worms and the dead?

D. Russell

What the hell is wrong with these people? Why are these idiotic DA's destroying these kids' lives and wasting our legal resources -- from detectives to court time -- to even CONSIDER these a 'case?' These laws were intended to protect children from predators -- now, the predator is the prosecutors. I cannot even remotely see how or why these cases should even be valid.

Morons!

kenbob

What does the ACLU see as an alternative to prosecution for these girls? Does the ACLU consider this to be free speech and therefore acceptable for underage girls to do this? Or do they see it as a problem? If it is a problem, how should the girls be dealt with? If it is legitimate free speech, how do you explain that position to those wishing to protect them from std's and the need for abortions?

Paen

It must be realy great to live in Wyoming county Pensylvania where there is so little crime that the local D.A.
can afford to waste his time like this.

Michael

I spoke to an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina about this case. He stated that he would not have pursued charges, but would have asked that officers visit with the children and parents to explain to them the possible consequences of their actions in the future, and that they really shouldn't be doing this. I think that's a completely reasonable approach and that this Pennsylvania District Attorney is an aberration and out of line.

Vic Livingston

I suggested in a comment posted yesterday that ACLU also should help these girls sue the prosecutor in a civil action, for character defamation.

The comment does not show up on my computer when I access this page.

If it was removed by ACLU, I do not question the organization's right to exercise editorial control over content posted to its web site.

But if it was removed by a third-arty entity, then there's a serious problem.

Could you clarify, ACLU? If your people did not take down the post, I refer you to my running commentary on apparent prior restraint, censorship and tampering with internet communications, at:

http://blog.aclu.org/2009/01/26/internet-filters-voluntary-ok-not-govern...

Thank you.

EGAMA

Cases like these show how far-reaching sex offender laws are in America and why they seriously need reform.

Hawaiian style

I'll bet the D.A is really frustrated.

He probably knows that someday we will have 3D phones that project a holographic image of the conversants, and he would like to charge some of those involved with RAPE.

That would teach those kids to be on guard for unwanted electronic pregnancy!!!

Just think if one party slammed down the phone on another he could then charge that party with electronic MURDER.

That would teach electronic courtesy or else...

Maybe we need to do a personality profile on potential D.A.s We certainly don't need control freaks doing a GREAT JOB like this.

Come on Mr. S. we have laws against running stop signs too, but it is not treason if you do.

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