“Sexting” is a national activity of young girls taking nude or seminude photographs of themselves, and sending them out using cell phones. The photos get widely distributed, leading to harm to the girls, and in one case, to a suicide. The ACLU has sued a local prosecutor, seeking a court ruling that “sexting” is free speech, and the prosecutor should cease acting against it.
The facts for this article, but not its legal conclusions, come from an article on the MTV website on 27 March 2009. The article begins by discussing the phenomenon of “sexting,” teenaged girls sending nude or seminude photographs of themselves to others using the camera features of their cell phones.
The impetus for some kind of serious action is stated at the end of the article, noting that Jessica Logan of Chicago killed herself last June because a nude photo she sent to her then boyfriend was circulated all over her school and beyond. As a result of massive taunting, she killed herself, and now her mother has taken up the cause of warning parents about the growing phenomenon of “sexting” and the fact that the results can be deadly.
The article names eight states where the legislatures are wrestling with the problem and seeking to write laws that might persuade parents and children to put a stop to this practice that children apparently do as a lark, but which can have serious consequences.
The specific article talks about a situation in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania, where the District Attorney announced that he was considering bringing charges including child pornography against two 14 year old girls who took and distributed photographs of themselves in their underwear. The local ACLU responded by suing the prosecutor, claiming that “sexting” was a matter of free speech, and the courts should order the prosecutor not to bring charges.
One has to read the article with care to find out that the prosecutor used the possibility of criminal prosecution to encourage 17 of 20 girls at the local high school to agree to probation and attendance in a class on sexual harassment and sexual violence. This prosecutor is obviously not trying to get convictions against these girls, which would result in lifetime labeling as committing a sexual crime involving a minor.
Three of the girls and their parents, however, refused to accept probation and the class attendance, saying that their girls “were just having fun,” and “did nothing wrong,” and “did not intend for their photographs to be widely distributed.” The parents are obviously nitwits, since activities by their daughters which could cause them a lifetime of psychological problems or at worst, suicide, is not “just a little fun.” And they are teaching their children to be nitwits, since it is obvious that such photographs are passed around as soon as they are available.
Most dangerous, however, is the attempt by the ACLU to prevent authorities from using the law to get the children and the parents to take this matter seriously, and prevent future harm to children. This was a school centered investigation, and the school authorities brought in the prosecutor when they found that the problem was widespread, and the children were not taking it seriously.
If the federal court where the ACLU has filed their case is so foolish as to ignore the special duty that school officials and public authorities have to protect young people from dangerous situations, the result will be paid in widespread psychological damage and occasional suicides, across the country. The ACLU may be willing to pay that price, but the First Amendment does not require any judge to force that price to be paid.
Sources on the Net: