January 16, 2010

Courts Want ‘Sexting’ To Be Punishable By Law

A Pennsylvania prosecutor told a U.S. appellate court on Friday that a teenage girl found topless in a "sexting" cell phone picture should face child-pornography charges.

The image--along with a few additional images of other girls--was distributed among sixteen of her middle-school classmates.

The pictures were discovered in January 2008 by officials of the Tunkhannock School District in rural Pennsylvania.

In the first U.S. case to test the constitutional status of "sexting," the American Civil Liberties Union countered that the incident does not come close to meeting the definition of child pornography which typically depicts graphic sexual acts with minors and is done for commercial gain.

According to the ACLU, the images consisted of two girls wearing bras, and a third standing topless outside a shower with a towel wrapped around her waist.

There was no sign of sexual activity.

The Wyoming County prosecutor threatened the 16 teenagers with felony charges unless they agreed to participate in a course showing other teens why sexting is wrong.

Mary Jo Miller, the mother of one of the girls seen in a bra, told Reuters that the images were originally taken during a slumber party back in 2006 when the girls were just twelve.

"It was a training bra," Miller told reporters Friday morning outside the appeals court. "You are going to see more provocative photos in a Victoria's Secret catalog."

The prosecutor, on the other hand, argued that the images were indeed pornographic because they were "disseminated for the purposes of sexual stimulation and so would be of great interest to child molesters."

However, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals was considering a March 2009 court ruling that said the pictures, in which teenagers sent sexually suggestive pictures of themselves to their friends by cellphones or the Internet, fall under the U.S. Constitution's free speech protections.

The prosecutor is seeking to press charges against the "topless" girl because she--along with her parents--refused to undertake a "re-education" program.