Folks in middle America seem obsessed with making (1) everything illegal and (2) treating teenage pranks like crimes against humanity.
The instruments of mass destruction are teenagers’ cellphones. The crime: sending and/or possessing nude photos of female classmates. In both cases, the girls in the photographs sent the photos to their classmates.
In Ohio, authorities have charged one girl with two felonies, and may require her to be listed as sex offender. In Michigan, no charges have been filed, but law enforcement officials have warned students that face possession of pornography charges if they keep the nude photo on their phones.
The Ohio teen’s alleged offense and subsequent arrest occurred just days after representatives from the Licking County prosecutors office visited local high schools and told students about the illegality of sending pornographic pictures with their cell phones.
Apparently, adolescent psych classes are not part of lawyers’ training. Telling a teenager not to do something is little like talking to a tree.
This case was the latest in a veritable epidemic — 20 — of similar incidents in Licking County, near Columbus. Adults there have been appalled at the graphic images and text on teenagers’ cell phones, so the prosecutors felt it their mission to try to put a stop to this electronic scourge.
The lightning rod in this case is a 15-year-old at Licking Valley High School in Newark, Ohio (that’s new-ark — two words — for those of you from Jersey). She was arrested after school officials discovered the photos on students’ cell phones.
From the Newark Advocate:
She pleaded deny to both charges: illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, a second-degree felony; and possession of criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony.
If found delinquent, the juvenile court’s equivalent of a conviction, the girl could be labeled a Tier II sexual offender and be required to register for 20 years, [Licking County Assistant Prosecutor Erin Welch] Welch said.
She [Welch] declined to comment on whether the juveniles who received the photographs also would be charged, but she said the investigation is ongoing.
A later article suggests a judge may be lenient and not require the sex offender registration. It also bothers to mention the girl is a foster child, as if that would have some bearing on the case. [My mother was a foster child, so I’m a little sensitive about these matters.]
For the moment, the girl is under house arrest. She cannot use her cell phone or the Internet without adult supervision, and only for school work.
Last summer, a Livingston County, Michigan, girl, 14, sent a nude photo of herself to couple of her friends. By the time school started, the photo had been passed around to perhaps a couple of hundred students. Some friends this girl has.
The Michiganders are being a bit more reasonable than in Ohio. The girl in question is still in school, and apparently is not facing criminal charges. Police there have confiscated about a dozen phones. As for the others, authorities want students to wipe the photo from their cell phone memories, saying the picture is pornographic.
“They could just erase it,” Livingston County Prosecutor David Morse said Wednesday, comparing the photo to unsolicited junk mail. “You can’t prohibit something from coming to you in the mail. But it’s what you do with it once you receive it.”
Those who keep the photo or send it along to others are committing a crime, Morse said.
The Sheriff’s Department has a deputy trained in computer forensics gathering evidence from the confiscated phones for Morse’s review.
He said cell phones that were confiscated with the picture will not be returned unless the owner pays for a computer forensics expert to verify the photo has been erased from the phone’s memory permanently.
“They’re out a phone, yes. We won’t and can’t give them back because it contains illegal material,” Morse said, acknowledging the prohibitive cost of having an expert clear the phone. “It would be cheaper to buy a new phone.” — Detroit Free Press, 10/16/08
The motivations of the Ohio girl are unclear. Maybe she just wanted to “fight authority, and authority always wins,” as John Melloncamp put it. Whether she considered the possibility the photo would go viral and end up on teh toobs within hours of sending it is probably unlikely. She’s 15, for pete’s sake. Charging her with a felony, and listing her as a sex offender if convicted, is just plain over-reacting.
So she was nude. There was no apparent sexual content or misconduct other than not having her clothes on. She didn’t put in the Internet, didn’t try to sell it, didn’t post it on the supermarket bulletin board. No one exploited her. She took the photo herself.
If anything, she should be slapped with a fine and maybe a day in juvie hall, but the Michigan reaction is probably more appropriate. The girl there has faced taunts and insults in school, which may be punishment enough.
Unbelievable. Only in America.