Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Blaming the victims?

Posted by sanityinjection on January 14, 2009

Maybe a reader can explain this one to me. In Pennsylvania, three teenage girls are being charged with manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography because they took nude photos of themselves with their cell phones and sent them to other students. The recipients are also being charged with possession:

Am I missing something here? The whole point of the law is to protect minors from being sexually exploited by adults, or even other minors. These girls are effectively being charged with sexually exploiting themselves, making them perpetrators and victims of the exact same crime. Now if you want to argue that the girls were pressured into taking and sending the photos by their peers, I suppose you could charge the peers, but what’s the basis for charging the girls? It would be like arresting someone for stealing money out of their own wallet.

It’s important to note that manufacture and dissemination of child pornography is a much more serious charge than simple possession. These girls, if convicted, would be registered sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

There also may be an issue about the propriety of the discovery of the images, which occurred when a boy’s cell phone was confiscated during the school day. It’s not clear whether one of the images was being displayed on the phone when school authorities obtained the phone, but if not, one wonders why they would be searching through the phone’s contents.

We should certainly be concerned that teenage girls in our society feel that they have to resort to nudity in order to gain attention and approval from fellow teens. This represents a basic failure both on the part of parents and our popular culture. However, I do not see how treating 14- and 15-year-old girls as if they were rapists and molesters is a constructive way to address the problem.


4 Responses to “Blaming the victims?”

  1. tubby said

    “The whole point of the law is to protect minors from being sexually exploited by adults, or even other minors.”
    Really? If that’s the case, you are right and they have gone too far. However, I thought the law’s purpose was to prevent child pornography from being publicly disseminated, regardless of who authored it. I think we’d probably have to read the actual law to settle this completely. I’d say both sides have grounds for defense on this, and without a former precedent, this case could get drawn out with appeals. You have any lawyer friends you can forward this to?

  2. sanityinjection said

    Well, yes it’s illegal to disseminate, but the whole reason we treat images of children differently than images of adults is that as minors, they are statutorily incapable of informed consent to be involved in sexual conduct. However, the assumption is that the child is being pressured into the conduct by an adult. Thus, if two 15-year olds have sex with each other, we do not charge them both with statutory rape of each other, nor would we charge a child with molestation for being caught alone masturbating. The criminality lies in the exploitation of someone who is incapable of consent by someone else who is legally expected to know better.

    Interestingly, though, the informed consent angle doesn’t apply to possession, so all the minors in this case could be charged with simple possession of child pornography. But even in so doing, how exactly are the interests of society and the state being furthered?

  3. tubby said

    Dalia Lithwick puts a fresh perspective on this topic, I think:

  4. sanityinjection said

    Lithwick’s comments would appear to echo what I’ve said above. While I definitely appreciate the link, I think the perspective was “fresher” a month ago when I was the one saying it! 🙂

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