U.S. court says teen sexting with friends is a child pornographer

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A teen who texted her friends a video of herself engaging in a consensual sex act is considered a child pornographer under Maryland’s law, the state’s highest court ruled Wednesday. For the first time, the Maryland Court of Appeals said it had to grapple with applying the state’s child pornography law to minors who consensually engage in sexting.

The court decided that the state’s child pornography statute does apply to a 16-year-old girl who texted a one-minute video of herself to her teenage best friends. In the video, she is seen performing a consensual sex act on a male.

In his opinion, Judge Joseph M. Getty said that the court had to contend with this question: “Can a minor legally engaged in consensual sexual activity be his or her own pornographer through the act of sexting?”

In a 6–1 ruling, the judges decided that the answer was yes, despite considering the “complexities of the sociocultural phenomenon of sexting by minors.” The Court of Appeals upheld an earlier decision by a lower court, which ruled that self-produced child pornography or consensual sex acts by a minor were not exempted from the state’s criminal statute.

However, the Court of Appeals urged Maryland’s legislators to update the state’s child pornography statute to reflect how teens today use cellphones, especially when it comes to sexting. Maryland is one of 22 states that has not passed legislation to amend its child pornography statue “since the advent of sexting,” the court noted.

The 16-year-old girl, identified as S.K. by the court, had a group text chat with two of her best friends. S.K. and her friends, a 16-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy, shared “silly photos and videos” to “one-up” each other, the court said. The three friends, who attended the Maurice J. McDonough High School in 2016–2017, trusted each other to keep their group messages private.

As part of their “one-up” competition, S.K. texted both of them a one-minute video of herself performing fellatio on a male in October 2016. At the end of the year, the three friends had a falling-out and S.K.’s video was distributed to other students at the school. Both her former friends also reported the video to the school’s resource officer.

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Comments 2

  1. This ruling could only make sense if merely seeing images of an activity were somehow more dangerous than actually participating in the activity – which is nonsensical.

    Once again, the irrational fear of eroticism trumps rationality and the Constitution. Congratulations to the MD courts for cravenly ducking their duty to defend the public from zealous bigotry.

    As others have asked on other forums, were the (unwisely) trusted “friends” who spread the images around after a falling out also prosecuted? They disseminated the same images as the girl who shared them in fun, but their sharing was done with intentional malice. That is morally reprehensible and ought to be more severely sanctioned by the state.

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