A 14-year-old Rice County girl is facing charges for sending a sexually explicit photo over social media.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union in Minnesota, the Rice County District Attorney’s Office is charging the unnamed teenager with a felony for sending an explicit selfie via Snapchat to a teenage boy. The ACLU says the girl could face up to 10 years on the sex offender registry and seven years in prison as a result.
The ACLU is working to get the charges dropped.
A court brief explains that the teenager’s photo was sent to one person and then disseminated by one or more recipients without the sender’s permission. The Snapchat application doesn’t save photos, but users can save them by taking screenshots before the content disappears. A classmate reportedly saw the photo being shared and gave a statement to Faribault Police.
Attorneys for the defendant said “Only an absurd interpretation and perverse application of this statute punishes the very children who the statute was enacted to protect. Such an interpretation is plainly adverse to the Legislature’s intent in enacting the child pornography law, violates free speech rights under the First Amendment, raises vagueness concerns under the Fourteenth Amendment, and jeopardizes thousands of minors across the state by criminalizing increasing common adolescent behavior.”
The Rice County Attorney’s Office is not commenting on the matter, due to the defendant’s status as a minor.
Sexting refers to a wide range of behaviors — from sending sexually suggestive text messages to explicit photos or videos. There is no dearth of research on sexting and adolescents, said the ACLU — researchers have been trying to understand the prevalence, motivation and risk factors for over a decade. And while psychologists vary in terms of their findings, one thing is clear — sexting is common. And it isn’t going away, according to the ACLU.
The Cyberbullying Research Center surveyed 5,500 middle and high school students from across the United States. They found 12 percent of students reported sending an explicit image of themselves to another person at some point in their lifetime. Other researchers have reported even higher rates.
Minnesota statute states its intent is to “protect minors from the physical and psychological damage caused by their being used in pornographic work depicting sexual conduct which involves minors.” The ACLU said, in this case, the state is doing the victimizing.
“I’m not a criminal for taking a selfie,” said the Rice County teenager. “Sexting is common among teens at my school, and we shouldn’t face charges for doing it. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’m going through.”
The felony case is in the early stages with the ACLU filing its brief Thursday.