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Forget “sexting”; what’s up with that prosecutor?

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 16:10 EDT
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Some very good news for the teenage girls being persecuted for having a sexuality in Pennsylvaniathe judge has ruled in their favor, and ordered a prosecutor to drop child pornography charges against three teenage girls who committed the “crime” of engaging in a routine sexual display for their boyfriends. And by routine, I mean laughably routine—they showed the boys they were with and/or interested in pictures of themselves in bras, and one girl actually showed some nipple. The problem is they exposed themselves to a prosecutor who believes female sexuality should be criminalized by sending these pictures by text message on their phones.

I’ve been following the case with interest, because I find it fascinating that the mainstream media has decided to ignore the main issue—we have a prosecutor who wants to throw your teenage daughters in jail because they’ve got boobies and boyfriends!—in favor of the standard issue alarmist story about the scary new technology. The implication is that the advent of text messaging is turning your daughters into whores through sheer scary-newness—they even have a nickname for sending nekkid pictures by text message, which they call “sexting”. Last year, I interviewed author Marty Klein about this weird irrationality about sex and technology, after seeing him lecture about the long history of people using sexual fears as an excuse to bash technological innovations. This actually dates back to the invention of pottery, he said, which caused a panic because people made pornographic pottery. But recent history has a number of examples, and the car was a particularly interesting example of a technology that was held accountable for the end of female virtue. However, watching recent panics over sex and technology, I tend to think that the level of panic directly correlates the the difficulty older people in a community have with adopting a technology.* Which makes sense—the more obtuse a technology seems to you, the more likely you are to be frightened by it and imbue it with all these powers of inventive sexual perversion. But text messaging has, by and large, proven to be a technological innovation that makes automatic sense to older people, at least in my experience. A lot of savvier people I know have been amused by how adults they know that are hostile to technology jumped right into text messaging, as well as taking and sending pictures with their camera. It’s interesting to speculate why this is so, but right now I’m just interested in the fact that it is so. Because what this means is that fewer people are getting distracted by alarmist media hype about “sexting”, and realizing that the real issue is that three teenage girls were threatened with prison and being marked as pedophiles for life for engaging in behavior that we, by and large, expect from teenagers.

In fact, I had mixed emotions about learning that the nudie pic over the phone thing is becoming a standard way for kids to show off to each other and arouse each other. Like everyone else, I’m not happy that they aren’t thinking about the long-term ramifications, and my heart goes out to teenage girls who are betrayed by boys who give into the urge to score misogyny points with friends by showing off the pictures. But I’m also reminded that teenage girls seem to have a lot more moxie than girls of my generation were permitted—half the reason I would have been scared to take such a picture would be that I’d be afraid no one would want to look at it.** I hope this reflects a growing ownership over sexuality that then translates into more responsible behaviors like condom use.

What really concerns me about this entire situation is that the alarm bells over the “sexting” are distracting from the real problem, which is this prosecutor’s massive abuse of office deployed so that he could go on a full-blown misogynist sex panic in public. He needs to be relieved of his duties for this, because he’s indicated that he doesn’t think that the female half of the population he’s supposed to serve and protect deserves his service. One thing that really struck me in reading blogger coverage of this was that the prosecutor George P. Skumanick had the gall to imply that the girls’ parents should be thanking him.

“I’m simply giving them an option,” said Mr. Skumanick, a Republican who has been district attorney for 20 years and faces re-election again in November. “We’re not forcing anybody to do anything, Frankly, it’s sad to me that their parents don’t realize this is wrong and they should be encouraging them to take the classes.”

He’s referring to the options he gave parents—have their daughters tarred for life as child molesters or put them in “classes” where they are punished for being sexual people with humiliation. The relationship between the illegal abortion and contraception regimes should be obvious—women were “allowed” to have abortions if they submitted to a ritual humiliation of pretending that their prior sexual behavior was evidence of mental illness. What’s sad is a lot of parents of girls actually went with this option, many probably because they were scared, but others probably because they honestly believe that utterly normal post-pubescent sexual play between peers is a criminal offense that should be treated as such. Only three families went to bat for their daughters, because when you love someone, you don’t bully and punish them for having rather mundane, normal, human bodies and behaviors.

Remember, 95% of Americans have pre-marital sex. In 2003, 62% of 12th graders were sexually active. And while I have no doubt that some of the people included in these numbers have terrible, depressing sex lives that involve no playing around, showing off, giggling, or otherwise enjoying it, I have to believe that most people actually have sex because it’s fun. And using technology to flirt with your partners is a routine part of sexual play. While it’s stupid to include pictures, especially if you’re young and your dating pool is young men who are under a great deal of pressure to demonstrate their contempt for women to their peers, the urge to do this strikes me as so normal as to be banal.

Therefore, I can only conclude that the prosecutor isn’t just someone who freaked out when confronted with an unusual behavior, but is a malignant authoritarian asshole with alarmingly hostile views of women who haven’t sliced off our breasts in protest of the indignity of sexuality. I wouldn’t trust him to be willing to prosecute rape cases, for instance, because a man who considers a teenage girl a criminal on level with a murderer because she shows her bra to her boyfriend is going to think you were asking for rape for pretty much any behavior you could think to engage in that isn’t sitting at home in a petticoat reading the Bible.

*I’m speaking of averages, of course. Some people never slow down in grasping newer technologies, and some young display alarming amounts of fogy behavior.
**As a teenager. Don’t worry about adult Amanda’s self-esteem.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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