A Virginia 16-year-old will face child pornography charges after police allegedly found nude cell phone self-portraits posted to her Twitter account.
According to Norfolk, Va. NBC affiliate WAVY.com, the James City County Police Department received an anonymous tip about nude selfies on the unnamed teenager’s account. A police spokesman said that some of the images were also sent to some boys. Police confiscated her phone as evidence and charged her with one count of distribution of child pornography.
The severity of the charge — the minimum sentence is five years in prison — has led to a spirited discussion online about the propriety of charging a child with a law designed to protect children from adult sexual predators. The case presents a legal paradox: a person too young to legally consent to sexual conduct is being charged for what might be considered sexual conduct. But it also presents a policy paradox, given the societal need to combat sexual predation and child pornography.
A 2011 study of US law enforcement agencies for the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that arrests of children who produced sexual images were rare without an “aggravating” circumstance such as the involvement of an adult was involved or a minor engaged in malicious, non-consensual, or abusive behavior. But in the period studied, 2008 and 2009, about two-thirds of the images were distributed by cell phone and never reached the Internet.
Charging children for distributing self-pornography isn’t unprecedented, given the rise of the selfie, the emergence of cell phone applications like Snapchat and the increasing social prevalence of sexting. A 16-year-old near Los Angeles faced similar charges in May after nude photos of two female teenagers ended up on the suspect’s Twitter account. According to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputies, the nude photos were texted to the suspect by the girls themselves, one of whom received a misdemeanor citation for distributing obscene material.
Two teens also faced child pornography charges in Florida in 2011 after an underage girl sent a cell phone photo of herself to a 15-year-old boy. And a ring of three Tennessee teenagers faced at least 24 child pornography and exploitation charges in April after coercing classmates into providing sexually-explicit images for trade. But in this case, none of the girls appear to have been charged.
[Image of Two Happy Friends On The Couch Taking A Selfie With Smartphone, via Shutterstock]