Sexting: Students Sue Prosecutor in Cellphone Photos Case

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A high school cheerleader in northeastern Pennsylvania learned she may face criminal charges after investigators reported finding a nude photo of her on someone else’s cellphone.

“Sexting,” the increasingly popular phenomenon of sending nude or seminude photos over wireless phones, has parents and others worried.

“They said they had a full-bodied naked picture of me, but I knew I’d never had any naked picture taken of me,” said 15-year-old Marissa Miller. The student’s mother, Maryjo, received a telephone call as the two were eating lunch together at Tunkhannock Area High School, where Maryjo is a special education teacher and Marissa is a freshman.

Investigators from the office of District Attorney George P. Skumanick of Wyoming County said the picture, apparently taken two years before at a slumber party, showed Marissa and a friend from the waist up. Both girls were wearing bras.

Mr. Skumanick considered the photo provocative enough to tell the girls that if they did not attend a 10-hour class dealing with pornography and sexual violence, he would consider filing a charge of sexual abuse of a minor against both girls. If convicted, the girls could face possible prison time as well as having to register as sex offenders.

“Prosecutors should not be using a nuclear-weapon-type charge like child pornography against kids who have no criminal intent and are merely doing stupid things,” said Witold J. Walczak, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which represents the families.

Seventeen other students—13 girls and 4 boys—also received the same accusations by the end of February. All had either been caught with semi- or fully-nude cell-phone pictures.

Marissa, her friend, and a third girl appeared in court along with their mothers. On Wednesday, they filed a lawsuit in Scranton, Pennsylvania federal court against Mr. Skumanick.

They asked the court to stop the district attorney from filing charges against them, which they believed was retaliation for the families exercising their First and Fourth Amendment rights to oppose the deal.

Mr. Skumanick said he opposes the lawsuit and that he was not acting in a retaliatory fashion. He states he had given the girls an option, but not forced them to do anything. Furthermore, he expressed his sadness that the parents didn’t realize what their children did was wrong, and said they should be encouraging the girls to take the classes.

 

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