Content Notice: Victim blaming, slut shaming, misogyny.
In 2014, a study came out of Drexel University that found around 50% of college students admitted that they had sexted prior to the age of 18. Now, as a person who is sex-positive, I see selfies–and sexy selfies in particular–as affirmations of healthy self image, and sharing them with a person who consents to receive them can be fun and exciting. Where the conversation is typically derailed is framing sexting between minors, who are peers, texting images of their own bodies, as child pornography. But the original intent of child pornography laws was to take into account that children can’t give informed consent to adults, because of the implied power differential regarding influence and manipulation. Sexting ones own body to consenting peers lack this differential, and shouldn’t qualify as child pornography, or even more generally a sex crime unless coercion or force could be demonstrated.
Ed Bull, an Iowa county prosecutor, disagrees. He has threatened a 14 year-old with a lifelong sex offender charge because she texted a suggestive image of herself that someone else picked up and distributed.
DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa county attorney has threatened to brand a teen a “sex offender” because she sent a friend photos of herself scantily clad, the girl’s family claims in federal court.
The photos at the heart of the Sept. 28 lawsuit depict a 14-year-old girl, named only as Nancy Doe in the lawsuit, in her underwear. In one photo, she wears a sports bra, and in the other she is topless with her long hair covering her breasts. She sent the photos to a male classmate via Snapchat and then deleted them, according to the lawsuit.
But the photos emerged again last spring when two male students were caught printing them off using a school printer, along with other photos of nude or partially nude male and female classmates, the 25-page complaint states.
The Knoxville School District discovered that male students had been trading, collecting and printing the photos, according to the lawsuit.
But a couple months after the photos were discovered, Marion County Attorney Ed Bull led a meeting for students who were involved in the school’s “sexting” crisis, along with their parents, plaintiffs say.
Although Nancy and her parents were unable to attend because of a scheduling conflict, at that meeting Bull allegedly informed the students present that “they could all be charged with child pornography charges and/or sexual exploitation of a minor charges … [which] would require them to register as a sex offender for life.”
The plaintiffs claim they also heard reports that at the meeting Bull “engaged in ‘slut shaming’ by informing the female students present that young ladies did not send such explicit photos to boys.”
To escape the criminal charges, the students would have to participate in a “diversion program” that required them to engage in community service, complete a class on the dangers and consequences of “sexting,” give up their laptops and cell phones for an unspecified period of time, and submit a written confession about their conduct to juvenile court services, plaintiffs claim.
In a private meeting with juvenile court services, the Does were also asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire “that delved into the intimate details of how [they] parented their daughter and how they disciplined her regarding the photographs,” the complaint says.
When the Does refused to fill out the questionnaire or to enroll Nancy in the diversion program, Bull continued to threaten her with criminal prosecution, according to the complaint.
All the other students involved opted to take the diversion program, plaintiffs say.
“Bull’s decision to prosecute the subject of the photographs, Nancy Doe herself, is unprecedented and stands anti-child-pornography laws on their head,” Nancy’s parents argue. “Anti-child-pornography laws are intended to protect the children shown in the photos and videos, and plaintiffs’ counsel has found no published Iowa or federal court decision sustaining such a prosecution against minors shown in such pictures.”
“Nancy Doe is, if anything, the victim in this case,” the complaint continues. “Someone else — not her — disseminated the photos without her permission to a large group of people.”
Nancy’s parents also object to the fact that Bull is attempting to make Nancy “admit in writing to a crime that does not exist.”
In addition, the Does are claiming Bull’s ultimatum interferes with their right to discipline their daughter as they see fit and also chills their daughter’s free speech.
The Does are requesting that the judge bar Bull from pressing criminal charges against Nancy.
So. Much. Wrong.
There is no precedent for prosecuting the sender of sexually suggestive material, and in this case it was to a consenting partner.
There is nothing morally or ethically wrong with sending sexually suggestive images of your own body to a consenting receiver who is your peer–in this case, from one minor to another.
There is nothing to confess to, and yet the children in question are being punished equally, despite the fact that the only ethical breach in this scenario were the kids distributing images without consent. The subjects of the photographs have done nothing wrong, and there is no rational reason to enforce the same consequences on them as their offenders.
Ed Bull is abusing his influence to make slut shaming and victim blaming an official policy. It is not for him to decide what makes a “proper lady,” nor is it in any way defensible to threaten kids with a lifelong sex offender status for taking pictures of themselves.
This intervention is not “rehabilitative” because it enforces the notion that victims are to blame for the poor behaviour of their offenders. Nor does it redress the awful bullying kids do by using non-consensually shared images to shame the victim–BECAUSE THE COUNTY IS USING LAW TO BULLY THE VICTIM.
And it is not the place of Juvenile Services to dictate to parents they must punish their child for committing no crimes!
In what fucking world can a victim be charged as their own exploiter?!
Fuck every god damn thing in this story. Dog above, Republicans make me angry.
brb replacing keyboard