14-Year-Old Girl Sends Explicit Photo of Herself; Cops Charge Her with Distributing Child Porn

An arrest is worse than a humiliating sext.


Goodween123 / Dreamstime

The American Civil Liberties Union wants a Minnesota judge to dismiss charges against "Jane Doe," a 14-year-old girl in trouble for sending a sexually explicit picture of herself to another teenager.

Authorities charged Doe with distributing child pornography, even though the only image she circulated was of her own body.

"She was not an exploited child victim," Teresa Nelson, legal director of the ACLU-Minnesota, wrote in an article about the case. "She was exhibiting normal adolescent behavior in the digital age."

The ACLU has filed an amicus brief in support of a motion to toss the case. According to CBS Local, Doe sent the picture via Snapchat to a male classmate she liked. The boy then did what other kids in such a situation have done: shared it with his friends. Everybody involved was charged with distributing child pornography, including Doe.

"Sexting is common among teens at my school, and we shouldn't face charges for doing it," Doe said in a statement.

The case is reminiscent of one involving an Iowa 14-year-old who drew sexual exploitation charges for sending an explicit photo of herself to a boy. The image was "less 'racy' than photographs [kids] see in fashion magazines and on television every day," according to the girl's parents, but the county prosecutor went after her nevertheless.

Protecting teens from predatory adults is one thing. Protecting them from their own choices and curiosities is something else. Actually arresting them is a third, even stupider thing. A criminal conviction is much more terrible to endure than the humiliation of a shared sext.

This year, at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, I will be leading a panel discussion about why the criminalization of teen sexting is bad for kids and their families. I'll be joined by The Atlantic's Emily Yoffe, St. Francis College's Amy Horowitz, and Amy Lawrence, the mother of a teenage boy whose arrest for sexting was covered here at Reason.

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  1. This is why “what not to do with your cellphone” needs to be part of “the talk” these days. Sorry kids, you’ll have to wait till you’re 18 to sext with pictures.

    1. It’s definitely a requirement in a world of insane policy.

    2. Yeah because “the talk” has been so very good in the past at preventing under-age fornication.

      1. I imagine it would be more effective if there were felony charges for teenage sex.

        1. Just wanting to ensure that there are no gaps in the school to prison pipeline?

        2. Look to history. No, it wasn’t.

      2. Yeah, I doubt that many of the kids who have been caught doing this had parents who sat down and explained that if they do it they are, according to the law, distributing child porn which is highly illegal, and comes with such lovely punishments as being labeled a felon and dangerous sex offender for life, losing the right to vote, the right to ever own a firearm, having to check in with the police every month for life lest you go back to prison, not being allowed to take your own kids to school or ever be involved in their school activities, etc.

        Sure, some might, but I bet most wouldn’t.

        Tangentially, I bet a lot of kids wouldn’t smoke weed either if their parents made it really clear that Civil Asset Forfeiture exists and that the parents could lose the family home, cars, and everything if the kid is caught in possession.

        1. Or end prohibition & exempt anyone under “the age of consent”.

          1. Sadly that is outside of my power. As a parent I can try to make sure my kids make informed decisions

    3. Most parents tell their kids what not to do with phones. It doesn’t stop kids.

      Telling kids not to consume porn or masturbate also hasn’t really stopped them.

      1. If I had the modern internet when I was a kid, I would have never gone to school and used large amounts of kleenex.

        1. Meh … My older brother’s comic books and the science fiction paperbacks from the 1970’s in his room were the reason I took so many “sick day” in 6th grade.

      2. But those aren’t felonies

        1. Plenty of parents tell their kids not to do drugs, get in fights, drink, or pull stupid illegal stunts, but it hasn’t really stemmed the tide of those.

          A 14 year-old is unlikely to care which are felonies and which aren’t.

  2. “She was exhibiting normal adolescent behavior in the digital age.”

    And this is the normal adolescent behavior that hardened investigators and fair but extremely firm prosecutors are working long nights to break, through close, rigid examination of photo and video evidence of these foul perpetrators’ misdeeds against helpless teenage victims.

    1. *begins slow clap*

      1. Hey, no clap from sexting.

    2. extremely firm

    3. “fair but extremely firm prosecutors”

      Okay, that made me laugh. Fair prosecutors are unicorns.

  3. Hopefully this will be added to child sex trafficking statistics.

    1. It’s the only way to reassure ourselves that we’re properly addressing the “problem”.

  4. “I’ll text you mine if you text me yours.”

  5. Prosecutorial discretion is necessary because resources are limited and lawmakers are overzealous. It’s supposed to be used to protect people who broke the letter of the law without breaking its spirit, or at least to give a break to people who really aren’t hurting anyone else. In reality it is often used to punish people the prosecutor doesn’t like for whatever reason or to get easy plea deals to increase the prosecutor’s “success” rate. Note that this case wouldn’t be recorded as a successful prosecution of a 14-year old girl. It would go down as a successful prosecution of a sex predator. How awful of a person do you have to be to be willing to ruin a girl’s life just to get yourself one step closer to that juicy judge’s robe?

    1. I’m sure the pricksecuting attorney will say pour encourager les autres – assuming he speaks a little French.

    2. Can you text me a pic of said “juicy judge” please?

  6. I feel kind of like this is the kind of story that maybe doesn’t need an accompanying graphic…or, at least, maybe not a graphic of a young girl texting on her phone.

    1. Fool, that’s a picture of Robby. His hair does that sometimes.

  7. “a 14-year-old girl in trouble”

    Is it a temporary thing?

    1. ^ +1 Romeo Void

  8. Babies sexting babies. This demands massive government resources and financial ruin for the family, of course.

  9. The only reason kid porn is not constitutionally protected communication is that its production was deemed to do harm to subjects unable to give legal consent to the producers. I’d like to see how that rationale could be stretched by an appeals court to include self-production like this.

    1. Exactly.

      It doesn’t matter what the text of the law says; given the Supreme Court precedents, this is unconstitutional as applied.

      Which is, incidentally, the ACLU’s first argument in its brief.

    2. I’d like to know how a court can convict a person as an adult for something that’s only an offense because she’s not an adult.

      1. “Because…umm…she might start…trafficking herself?”

        “Ah…but what else floats?”

  10. Prosecutors: Sexting can ruin your life and we are going to prove it to you.

    1. Worked for marijuana, right?

      Nowdays, there are whole sub-industries that are more or less (more) based on ruining people’s lives for smokin’ da herb. Police and prison guard unions, private prison industry, “rehabilitation” facilities, Big Pharma, Big Liquor…just the tip of a very large and remunerative iceberg that includes the courts, lawyers, federal agencies of many stripes and on and on…all good upstanding citizens whose pockets are lined by creating misery for other citizens.

      So don’t be surprised if the moral argument against ruining the lives of children fails to overcome the simple consideration of financial gain.

  11. You know, my wife recently brought up the question of when is the appropriate age to give your kid a cell-phone and I replied 18. This article has not helped to change my mind on that.

    1. Wait, you believe that adequately explaining to children would persuade them to not do such activities but also that they shouldn’t have a cellphone until they’re a legal adult? Why not just talk to your children and allow them to have a cellphone?

      Is it just your children that wouldn’t understand? If that were the case, I suppose it makes sense.

      1. I think that adequately explaining to children the consequences for themselves and their family would dissuade most of them. I don’t think it would dissuade them all. I’m risk averse, so I’m willing to curtail their access.

        In the case of weed, I can’t really eliminate access. All I can do is tell them that any of their friends that is doing it is not welcome on my property.

      2. However, feel free gorms, to assume your parental admonitions have sufficiently dealt with any problems that might arise. Some would consider that unrealistically optimistic, perhaps even naively taking the position that the parents of kids who DO get in trouble have simply failed to be as good a parent as you are. Which is not only smug, but kind of shitty.

        I mean, you’re only betting your kids lives and if they squander their access to your wisdom…what? Fuck ’em?

  12. And yet more prima facie that Age of Consent laws as they are applied now are fucking moronic. This is the horrific intersection of Dirtbag Politicians/Prosecutors, Puritanical Fundie Conservatards, Authoritarian Progtards, Anti-Sex Third-Wave Feminists and every other “Think of the Children” pea-brain. G. Stanley Hall is (hopefully) rotting in Hell for creating this boondoggle with his horseshit “teen brain” bullshit at the turn of the 20th Century.

    1. That’s a good list of answers for “How the fuck did we get HERE?”

  13. This is insane. This is a parental issue, not a State issue. The judge should toss the case and rip the District Attorney, on the record, a new one for wasting resources on this. The criminalization of stupidity is not something we should encourage.

  14. Ah, but we must protect the children,….from the children!

  15. If you can get yourself into a headspace where human suffering doesn’t bother you, then you can appreciate this as a rare opportunity to watch the exact moment, the green flash when a behavior transitions from “kinda awful” to directly maladaptive bullshit where animals kill their own offspring and try to raise discarded plastic bottles in their place or some shit.

    1. Naw…that would be silly. It’s “furbabies” now. Cross-species transference of such social constructs as “maternal instinct” and “kin preference”. The flip side of “gender fluid”, which does not mean what I used to think it meant.

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