US prosecutor sued over semi-nude teen photos case

PHILADELPHIA, (Reuters) – The American Civil  Liberties Union sued a Pennsylvania prosecutor yesterday  over his threats to charge three teenage girls with child  pornography for allowing themselves to be photographed partly  clothed with cellphone cameras.

The case involves the growing practice among teens of  “sexting,” a play on the term texting, in which nude or  semi-nude photos are sent on cell phones or posted on the  Internet.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, a chapter of the civil rights  group,  said Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick  accused the girls of being accomplices to the production of  child pornography because they allowed themselves to be  photographed. Other unidentified people distributed the  pictures.

Pictures showing two of the girls wearing white bras, and  another standing topless with a towel wrapped around her waist  were discovered by school officials in October 2008, the ACLU  said. The pictures did not show any sexual activity.

The ACLU said Skumanick should not have threatened to file  felony charges against the girls unless they agreed to be  placed on probation and participate in a counseling program.  The ages of the girls were not given.

“Kids should be taught that sharing digitized images of  themselves in embarrassing or compromised positions can have  bad consequences, but prosecutors should not be using heavy  artillery …to teach them that lesson,” said Witold Walczak,  ACLU Pennsylvania legal director.

A 2008 national survey found 20 percent of teenagers say  they have sent or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures of  themselves, and 39 percent say they have sent or posted  sexually suggestive messages, according to the National  Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Sara Mullen, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania ACLU, said  the case could set a national guideline for schools,  prosecutors and parents over how to deal with the “sexting”  phenomenon.

The ACLU lawsuit asks a federal judge to bar the district  attorney from filing criminal charges against the girls. The  suit claims Skumanick misused his authority by threatening to  bring baseless child-pornography charges in order to force  parents to enroll their daughters in the proposed probation and  counseling program.

Skumanick said he will argue at a federal court hearing in  Scranton, Pennsylvania  today that the ACLU has no basis  for its suit. He said no charges have been filed because he  wanted to give the girls a choice between criminal charges and  the other proposed remedies.

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