The highest state court in Maryland ruled yesterday that a teenage girl could be prosecuted for distributing “child pornography” because she shared a one-minute video in which she was engaged in a consensual sexual act.
Has the world gone crazy?
“Child pornography” laws have been passed in every state in the nation. And in each of those states the purpose of the laws is to protect children from abuse and exploitation.
Protecting children from abuse and exploitation is a noble cause. However, it is not noble to prosecute children who are neither abused nor exploited.
In this case, one of the state government’s arguments is that the teenage girl should be prosecuted because “there is a potential for the image to fall into the hands of adults who traffic in child pornography.” While that may be true in the abstract, the Court cited no evidence that an adult had distributed the teenager’s one-minute video.
Instead, the Court cited evidence that the video was initially sent to two close friends, both teenagers. Unfortunately, one of those friends ultimately shared the video with a school official who was an adult who subsequently shared it with many other adults, including members of law enforcement.
Given these facts, who is the actual distributor of the “child pornography” in this case? And is the school official, the first adult to view the video, a trafficker of “child pornography” because he showed that video to other adults?
It appears that the most rational person in this case was the accused teenager who argued that the state’s “child pornography” law was intended to protect, not prosecute minors victimized and exploited in the production of sexually explicit videos. Unfortunately, the Court disagreed with the accused’s position and ruled instead that she could be prosecuted for distributing the video in question.
In its decision, the Court blames the Maryland State Legislature for existing law that allows for the prosecution of teenagers for sexting. The Court then notes that 21 states currently have laws that allow such prosecutions – Alabama, Alaska, California, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
If the Court’s statement is correct, it also means that 29 states do not allow teenagers to be prosecuted for sexting. It is therefore incumbent upon the 21 states to immediately begin revisions to their “child pornography” laws so that those laws fulfill their stated purpose of protecting children and do not instead prosecute children.