A federal lawsuit filed by the teenage girl at the center of a Pennsylvania sexting scandal could be a major turning point on an issue that has garnered confusion and criticism across the country. The woman in question, who is now nineteen, claims that high school officials went much farther than legally allowed in taking her cell phone and searching for nude pictures on it.
The phone was taken from her by a teacher after she was caught using it in class, but then it went to the school principal, who apparently thought it within his rights to look through her photos. The phone was later turned over to authorities, who also saw the images on the phone.
The district attorney then threatened to charge the teen with creating and distributing child pornography, unless she completed "re-education course" on sexual violence. Terrified, the girl complied.
The embarrassment caused by the situation made a lasting impact, and her anger over the way in which she was treated led her to file suit against the school, county, district attorney, and several others named in the lawsuit. In addition to invasion of privacy, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are concerned that her free-speech rights were violated.
She is asking for damages, reimbursement for the re-education classes she was forced to take and for any copies of the photos in question to be destroyed.
The question of whether or not teenagers who share nude or semi-nude images via cell phone are committing sex crimes has been a hotly debated topic. On one hand, under most state laws, such actions technically constitute the production and distribution of child pornography.
On the other, such photos are rarely meant for mass distribution and are usually shared in private, with the full compliance of the person in them. Many have argued that, if anything, such instances are examples of poor decisions - not criminal activity.