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

An arrest is worse than a humiliating sext.


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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.