"Sexting" teens strike back!

After being attacked as sexual predators, three girls sue their prosecutor.

Published March 27, 2009 11:00AM (EDT)

Overzealous prosecutors across the country targeting teens for "sexting," be afraid, be very afraid. Your worst nightmare, worse even than kids unabashedly creating their own child porn rings, is becoming reality: In northeastern Pennsylvania, three girls and their mothers filed a lawsuit Wednesday in response to the district attorney's threat of charging them with sexual abuse of a minor if they don't complete a 10-hour course on pornography and sexual violence, the New York Times reports. A total of 17 other "sexting" students were given the same choice and took it, but these families were so outraged by the proposition that they refused it.

Maybe you're thinking: But, loads of kids are being charged with child porn possession for "sexting" without being offered any deal -- recognize your luck and take the damn class, girls! But get a load of what actually got them in this pickle: Two of the girls took a cellphone photograph of themselves from the waist up wearing bras and then presumably sent it to some friends. (The third girl was shown in a different photograph.) In other words: The photo displays roughly the equivalent of the juniors' swim wear section in the Macy's catalog. 'The snapshot, which was taken two years ago at a junior high slumber party, is "provocative," explains Skumanick. (Well, that's damning. In what parallel universe did you go to junior high in, sir? Getting a little wild is the whole point of sleepovers.) 

The lawsuit alleges that the district attorney's threat of filing charges amounts to "'retaliation' for the families asserting their First and Fourth Amendment rights to oppose his deal," reports the Times. But he says he's "simply giving them an option" and finds it "sad" that "their parents don't realize this is wrong and they should be encouraging them to take the classes." Nice of him to offer parenting advice, but is that really within his job description as a district attorney?

Witold J. Walczak, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing the girls, said: "Prosecutors should not be using a nuclear-weapon-type charge like child pornography against kids who have no criminal intent and are merely doing stupid things." It was obviously unwise for them to send such easily sharable photos to someone else and, if I were one of the girls' parents, we would be having a nice long chat about the birds and the ... benefits of private sexual exploration. But suggesting that these girls should be either labeled child predators or schooled about rape for 10 hours makes a mockery of cases of actual sexual violence. Maybe Skumanick should be required to take the class instead.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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