Parents fight child porn threats against “sexting” teens
Backed by the ACLU, a group of Pennsylvania parents is suing to block an enthusiastic DA who has threatened to file child porn charges against teen girls who appear semi-undressed in candid cell-phone photos—unless they agree to attend a five-week program on “what it means to be a girl in today’s society.”
As teen flirtation and sexual experimentation enter the digital age, dog-bites-man stories about adolescent exhibitionists being charged as kiddie pornographers may soon seem no more newsworthy than reports of cops breaking up a kegger. But one group of Pennsylvania parents is pretty sure their daughters aren’t sex offenders—and with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, they’re suing to force a zealous county district attorney to back off.
In what’s becoming a familiar pattern, Tunkhannock School District officials confiscated a student’s cell phone late last year, and discovered an array of photographs of local girls in various states of undress—photos that male students had apparently been trading and collecting more avidly than Pokémon cards. Duly horrified, Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick decided he had to protect these young women… by threatening to prosecute them for “sexual abuse of children.”
In a letter sent to parents in February, Skumanick declared that both the boys caught swapping the photos and the girls who’d been photographed would have to submit to a reeducation program or risk being charged with a felony. In addition to accepting six months probation, the students would have to pony up $100 for a five-week, ten-hour program that would, among other things, help them “gain an understanding of what it means to be a girl in today’s society.” The parents of most of the 20 or so students involved readily assented.
But the parents of Marissa Miller and Grace Kelly were less than scandalized when they saw the snapshot for which their daughters had posed: both were shown wearing opaque white bras no more revealing than a bikini top—one on the phone, the other flashing a peace sign. Skumanick averred that it was nevertheless child pornography because the girls were posed “provocatively.” The pseudonymous Nancy Roe was a bit more exposed in her photo, which showed her fresh from the shower with a towel wrapped around her torso, below her breasts. But her mother doubted whether a bit of nudity was all it took to make a picture “pornographic.”
The ACLU shared the parents’ skepticism—though they’ve had to rely on second-hand descriptions so far. Skumanick won’t show the photos to anybody else, including the parents’ lawyers, for fear of becoming a kiddie-porn “distributor” himself.