Sexism in sexting case?

A federal court of appeals in Philadelphia is expected soon to decide the first case about the criminal prosecution of teens for sexting. One side – that of George Skumanick, who in 2006 was district attorney for Pennsylvania’s Wyoming County – argued that the DA “was trying to protect the teens from themselves and potential child predators.” The other side, the ACLU, argued that “the prosecutor cannot accuse the girls of being pornographers under the guise of protecting them from pornographers,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Two of the photos involved depicted two 12-year-old girls in their underwear; a third photo in a separate situation, depicted a 16-year-old girl nude from the waist up. [In this case’s first trial, in March 2009, US District Judge James M. Munley “sided with the ACLU and issued an injunction that blocked Skumanick from bringing charges, declaring that the photographs were not child pornography under Pennsylvania law,” reports.] After learning that the photos were circulating, the school confiscated some phones and turned them over to the DA’s office. “Interestingly, none of the classmates who distributed the photos received letters from Skumanick. Only the girls who appeared in the photos were threatened with child porn charges,” writes the ACLU in its blog. “If the DA did in fact regard these photos as pornographic, why not file distribution charges against the boys? A clue may be found in their argument before the 3rd Circuit. In narrating the case, their attorney explained how, after the girls were photographed, ‘high school boys did as high school boys will do, and traded the photos among themselves’.

“The boys who traded the photos bear no responsibility and require no re-education,” the ACLU blogger writes, referring to a letter Skumanick sent the girls’ parents threatening prosecution if the girls didn’t take a “five-week re-education program of his own design, which included topics like ‘what it means to be a girl in today’s society’.” Only the girls were threatened with felony charges and sex-offender registration. It was one of the Third Circuit judges who raised “the central question” of the case, the blogger concluded: During arguments, Judge Thomas L. Ambro said, “Should we allow the state to force children, by threat of prosecution, to attend a session espousing the views of one particular government official on what it means to be a girl?”

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