The Associated Press reports that sexting-extortion is on the rise:

INDIANAPOLIS – The nightmare began with a party: three teenage girls with a webcam, visiting an Internet chatroom and yielding to requests to flash their breasts. A week later, one of the girls, a 17-year-old from Indiana, started getting threatening e-mails.

A stranger said he had captured her image on the webcam and would post the pictures to her MySpace friends unless she posed for more explicit pictures and videos for him. On at least two occasions, the teen did what her blackmailer demanded. Finally, police and federal authorities became involved and indicted a 19-year-old Maryland man in June on charges of sexual exploitation.

Federal prosecutors and child safety advocates say they’re seeing an upswing in such cases of online sexual extortion. They say teens who text nude cell phone photos of themselves or show off their bodies on the Internet are being contacted by pornographers who threaten to expose their behavior to friends and family unless they pose for more explicit porn, creating a vicious cycle of exploitation.

A lot of bloggers have been pointing out the absurdity of law enforcement for going after 15 year old girls who take pictures of themselves or the boys that they send the pictures to. In one case, though I can’t find a link, they prosecuted a boy who had deleted the picture from his phone on the basis that they knew he had it at one point. But it brings to light some rather interesting questions: how do you deal with some of this stuff?

Prosecuting girls for taking pictures of themselves and even sending them around, absent some sort of complaint on the part of who she is sending it to, is indeed quite absurd. And though less absurd it doesn’t seem particularly fair to go after the boys that they send them to if they’re not passing it on. And in some cases even when they are passing it on, they may be guilty of some unsavory behavior but they’re not really comparable to those aiding and abetting an industry devoted to exploiting young girls. I would just shrug it off to prosecutorial discretion (if the girl or guy is not making money off of it or doing it maliciously, treat them different from someone in the industry or doing what the above guy is doing), but when it comes to sex crimes involving minors I am not sure how much faith in prosecutors I have. Yet the distinctions between people with malicious intent and those that have a picture of the girlfriend they’ve seen nude with regularity is something difficult to codify into law.

Category: Newsroom

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8 Responses to Sexting, Sextortion, & Child Pornography

  1. Transplanted Lawyer says:

    …but when it comes to sex crimes involving minors I am not sure how much faith in prosecutors I have.

    And that’s the real problem, isn’t it? Child pornography laws must be able to get at a very wide variety of conduct to do their job, but that requires that the people who investigate and prosecute them exercise substantial discretion in doing their jobs. Common sense and ordinary justice, however, get lost when people become hysterical about a particular kind of crime.

    No one would say it’s good that kids exchange these kinds of photos. But it’s typically not an appropriate subject for criminal prosecution, and there ought to be someone who can speak up about this. Ideally, that would be the accountable-to-the-public head prosecutor personally, but if not that person, then perhaps a judge?

  2. web says:

    I am reminded of an old case in which a state district attorney, having failed to obtain an extradition for a man through legal means, deliberately took some child porn out of evidence storage, mailed it to the man’s house, and then informed the feds to go “pick it up” from the man’s mailbox. The feds promptly arrested the guy for “possession” of something he couldn’t have possibly known was in his mailbox.

    Even after his lawyer finally got the federal charges cleared, the unscrupulous DA got him “extradited” directly from the feds for what they really wanted. And the Supreme Court upheld this as a completely legal thing to do!

  3. Peter says:

    Child porn’s legality or lack thereof is hardly the issue in the cited case. The girl was probably more worried about the pictures being sent to her My Space friends than about any possibly crimes she might have committed.

  4. trumwill says:

    TL, it’s “not good” when someone sends out a bunch of pictures to oneself, but as this story indicates, there are cases of genuine exploitation that results in this… which goes well beyond “not good”. Outlawing the possession and dissemination of these pictures is really the only way to combat this. Or at least I’m unaware of any other. It seems like a thorny issue.

    Peter, sure, this isn’t a case of illegal possession of pictures, but it points to the problems with labeling “sexting” as “just a mistake”. There are or can be consequences that go beyond just a little embarrassment. I would be pretty surprised if some dude somewhere didn’t lose his virginity over the leverage provided by getting a hold of one of these pictures.

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    This is a siren call for Gannon…

  6. Transplanted Lawyer says:

    I’m not calling for legalization of this sort of thing. I’m calling for intelligence, humanity, and common sense on the part of the prosecutors handling it.

    We’ve had this discussion before — when a couple of kids start fooling around while they’re teenagers, this happens all the time and we understand that people move on and become responsible members of society. So we generally call it a non-foul without necessarily approving of it. But when the flirting and teasing of one’s partner extends to taking a picture, they’re branded “sex offenders” or “child pornographers” and get to be on the Megan’s Law list for the rest of their lives. This is not reasonable.

    I recognize that there are qualitative differences between the recording and transmission of an image of teenagers having sex and the sex act itself, not the least of which is the ease with which it can be transmitted to third parties, and that is a good reason to treat the matter reasonably differently than teenagers “just” having sex — but I’m saying the criminal justice authorities should treat the issue not just “differently” but also “reasonably.”

    There should be a new category of crime created to address this which allows for a reasonable punishment but doesn’t mark the consenting, if naive, subjects of the photographs as lifelong sex offenders. The kids should have to take a class, do some orange vest, pay a fine, give up their cell phones. But only the ones who cross a certain (if necessarily arbitrary) line in disseminating these pictures should be prosecuted as child pornographers.

  7. trumwill says:

    Mike, haven’t seen Gannon around lately. If I had, I might not have posted this :). I think, though, that he is actually wary of child pornography in a way that he is not of child sex.

    TL, I think we’re on the same page on this issue. I don’t think that came through in my previous comment.

  8. Gannon says:

    Well,it seems that the people want me back. Now that I’m a lawyer (when I wrote in the past I was still a law student) In don’t have much time. I consider sex with children or child pornography a huge crime. In order to represent my ideas fairly people should talk about heterosexual consensual teenage sex: age for consensual heterosexual sex in the US should be lowered to 14. This is not outrageous, but the standard in the civilized world (cough Europe cough)and even in Hawaii, unless the legislation was changed. Still, I believe that teenagers should be protected from sexual acivities where abuse can be reasonably presumed by the law like pornography, prostitution or homosexual activity. I myself am still with my girlfriend who I met when she was 15, and thanks to the fact that she wasn’t ruined by previous relationships we formed a strong bond and hopefully might marry one day and have children and form a beautiful family, whereas aging US feminist hags will spent their old days childless. Finallly, Trumwill is right: the distribution of nude pictures of teenage girls should be criminalized, but reasonable exceptions (example: a picture as a gift from the gf or unsolicited pictures)must be made.

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