Sexting which involves people sending explicit pics of themselves to their peers has led to a legal gray area in nations that have strict anti-child pornography laws and regulations, including the United States. Several teenagers that have texted pictures of themselves, or of their pals or partners, are already charged with distribution of child pornography, although anyone who has received the photographs have been charged with having child pornography; in some cases, the possession charge was put on school administrators who have investigated sexting incidents as well. The photos involved in sexting are often different in both character and motivation from the sort of content that anti-child pornography laws and regulations were intended to deal with. Parents possess legal and ethical responsibilities for stopping or at least minimizing Sexting.
The first recognized published mention of the expression “sexting” was in a 2005 article in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. It has since been described as taking place worldwide. It has been noted in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., and Canada.
A 2009 UK survey of 2,094 teens aged 11 to 18 discovered that 38% had received an “offensive or distressing” sexual picture by text or email.
In 2008, a Virginia assistant principal was faced with possession of child pornography and associated offences after he had been asked to check out a rumored sexting event at the high school where he worked. Upon finding a student in possession of a photograph on his cellphone that depicted the torso of a girl wearing only underpants, her arms mostly covering her breasts, the assistant principal showed the image to the principal who instructed him to retain the image on his computer as evidence, which he did. The judge later ruled that the image did not amount to child pornography due to the fact under Virginia law, nudity on it’s own is not adequate to qualify a picture as child pornography; the picture must be “sexually explicit”. Loudoun County Prosecutor James Plowman stands by his original evaluation of the image and states he would not have pursued the case if the assistant principal had agreed to resign. Instead, the assistant principal got a second mortgage on his house and spent $150,000 in attorneys’ fees to clear his name.
In July 2010, Londonderry High School teacher Melinda Dennehy pled guilty and received a one-year suspended sentence for transmitting racy photographs of herself to a fifteen year old pupil. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a teenaged boy was indicted on felony obscenity charges for purportedly transmitting a photo of his genitals to various female classmates. Another boy was charged with child pornography in a similar case.
Two southwest Ohio teens were arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a first-degree misdemeanor, for sending or possessing nude pictures on their phones of two 15-year-old schoolmates.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. on March 25, 2009, for threatening teenage girls who were the subject of apparently risque images with prosecution on child pornography charges if they didn’t submit to a counseling program. The case is Miller, et al. v. Skumanick. Skumanick said in an interview with Julie Chen on CBS News’s The Early Show that his office chose to make an offer of limiting penalties to probation as long as they attend a sexual harassment program. The girls and their parents won a judgment that stopped the district attorney, who appealed. It’s the first appeals court case involving sexting.
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