Can a girl sexually abuse herself?

A 15-year-old faces child porn charges after distributing naked self-portraits.

Published October 11, 2008 10:30AM (EDT)

This is unbelievable: A 15-year-old Ohio girl currently faces juvenile child pornography charges for allegedly taking and distributing nude photos of herself.

After Licking Valley High School officials discovered the photos on the girl's phone and tipped off police last Friday, she was arrested, held in jail over the weekend and charged with possession of criminal tools and illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, ABC reports. If convicted, she could spend several years in juvenile detention and be forced to register as a sex offender for the next 20 years of her life (although, since she is a first-time offender and a minor, the judge could decide against making her register).

What's more, charges might still be filed against the students who received the photos, regardless of whether they received them unwillingly. State law holds that "anyone possessing material that shows a minor in a state of nudity is guilty of a fifth-degree felony," according to the Newark Advocate. If convicted, they could face registration as a sex offender for 10 years.

Clearly, the states' child porn laws were not written to address these types of situations -- and they do not take into consideration the technology at kids' disposal. There are now infinite ways for teenagers to virtually play-act their sexuality. Are minors guilty of sexually abusing themselves for engaging in this kind of exploration in all of the many (admittedly frightening) ways available to them? How can we consider minors both incapable of giving legally meaningful sexual consent and criminal should they make a sexual decision for themselves without an adult's involvement?

That's not to say that some punishment -- whether it's meted out by their parents, the school or the law -- isn't reasonable in this case. After all, the general reaction to a teenage boy sending out explicit photos of himself to female classmates would likely, and rightly, be that it was sexual harassment -- why should it be any different if a girl is the sender? Also, distributing nude photos of yourself is potentially self-endangering behavior that should be addressed -- obviously.

But calling this girl a sex offender for distributing pornographic images of herself is crazy-talk. We have to acknowledge that, however unprepared she was to make the decision, she does have ownership over her own body; her sexual choice is not the same as an adult making a sexual choice for her.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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