A Maryland court ruled that a teenage girl who sent a video of her performing a sex act to friends is not exempt from the state’s child pornography laws, The Washington Post reports.
In October 2016, the 16-year-old girl shared a video with a three-person group text chain that included another 16-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy who were her best friends. She expected the video to stay private but the group “fell off as friends” months later and the students who received the video shared it with a school resource officer, according to court documents.
The girl who shared the video, which showed her performing a sex act on a male, was the only person charged, but because she was charged in juvenile court she did not face a steep mandatory sentence nor did she have to register as a sex offender. She was placed on probation in May 2017.
Her attorneys appealed the decision, arguing that the video was sent voluntarily and was legal. Prosecutors argued that overturning the conviction would “disregard the legislature’s interest in protecting minors and stopping child pornography,” The Post reported.
Court rules teen isn’t exempt from child pornography laws:
On Wednesday, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the teen is not exempt from child pornography laws even though she made and sent the video herself.
“Can a minor legally engaged in consensual sexual activity be his or her own pornographer through the act of sexting?” Judge Joseph Getty wrote. The court ruled 6 to 1 to uphold the decision.
Despite upholding the ruling, the majority opinion urged lawmakers to change the law.
“This case presents a unique challenge. On the one hand, there is no question that the State has an overwhelming interest in preventing the spread of child pornography,” the court said. “On the other hand,” the teen “albeit unwisely, engaged in the same behavior as many of her peers.”
The judges wrote that even though the court found the law “all encompassing,” “we recognize that there may be compelling policy reasons for treating teenage sexting different from child pornography.”
One judge dissents:
Judge Michele Hotten, the only judge who voted against upholding the previous conviction, wrote that the law was intended to “protect children from exploitation and abuse,” not to criminalize consensual sex between minors.
Hotten wrote that the teen was “not being exploited by someone else.”
“The General Assembly did not seek to subject minors who recorded themselves in non-exploitative sexual encounters to prosecution,” Hotten wrote.