|The photographs show three naked underage girls posing lasciviously for the camera. The perps who took the pictures were busted in Greensburg, Pa., and charged with manufacturing, disseminating and possessing child pornography -- and so were their subjects. That's because they are one and the same.|
It all started when the girls, ages 14 and 15, decided to take nudie cellphone snapshots of themselves. Then, maybe feeling dizzy from the rush of wielding their feminine wiles, the trio text-messaged the photos to some friends at Greensburg-Salem High School. When one of the students' cellphones was confiscated at school, the photos were discovered. Police opened an investigation and, in addition to the girls' being indicted as kiddie pornographers, three boys who received the pictures were slammed with charges of child porn possession. All but one ultimately accepted lesser misdemeanor charges.
"Sexting," where kids trade X-rated pictures via text message, has made headlines recently after a rash of cases in which child pornography charges have been brought not against dangerous pedophiles but hormonally haywire teenagers -- potentially leaving them branded sex offenders for life. Just last week, there came news that a middle-school boy in Falmouth, Mass., might face child porn charges for sending a naughty photo of his 13-year-old girlfriend to five buddies, who are also being investigated. There's been plenty of outrage to go around: Some parents are angry to see teens criminalized for simply being sexual, while others find the raunchy shots pornographic, another blinking neon sign of moral decay in a "Girls Gone Wild" era. In both cases, it amounts to a tug of war between teenagers' entitled sense of sexual autonomy and society's desire to protect them.
It's rather stunning that in the same age of the Pussycat Dolls, Disney starlets' sexy photo scandals, Slut-o-ween costumes for kids and preteen push-up bras and thongs, teenagers are being charged with child porn possession for having photographs of their own naked bodies. That noise you hear? It's the grating sound of cultural dissonance.
According to these recent interpretations of the law, a curious teenage girl who embarks on an "Our Bodies, Ourselves" journey of vaginal self-discovery, and simply replaces a hand mirror with a digital camera, is a kiddie pornographer. The same goes for the boy who memorializes his raging boner or the post-pubescent girl who takes test shots of herself practicing the porn star poses she has studied online. Theoretically, this is true regardless of whether they share the pictures with anyone, and if they do share them, they could be additionally charged with peddling child porn.
There are plenty of examples of the moral and legal gray areas created as technology broadens our behaviors: cyber-cheating, MySpace bullying, online gossip, upskirting, employers' Web snooping. When it comes to "sexting," though, the potentially damaging implications -- for child pornography law, free speech and kids' sexuality -- are abundant. And it's not going away any time soon.