By Nate Anderson | Last updated March 4, 2011 3:15 PM
If a middle-aged man meets a 14-year-old girl, coerces her to film a 10-second clip of herself masturbating, then intentionally releases that clip on the Internet, the man could clearly be charged under US federal law against the “sexual exploitation of children.” But what happens when the “man” is a 14-year-old boy who the 14-year old girl likes? And what if the "coercion" to make the film is the boy's threat not to befriend the girl in their new high school without the video?
An ongoing federal court case in Kentucky is currently trying to answer some of the thorniest questions surrounding "sexting," the practice of sending sexually explicit photographs or videos to friends or lovers. Rules designed to stop predatory adults from taking advantage of children become murkier when both parties involved in sexting are kids; in fact, no federal precedent exists for these kinds of sexting suits against minors.
A new ruling in the Kentucky case will allow that lawsuit to move forward, however, with the judge deciding that even 14-year olds can be child pornographers.
The opposite of "friendship"
The case began late in 2005, when an eighth grade girl at the Montessori Middle School of Kentucky was suffering from anorexia and had to relocate to a treatment center in Arizona. After two months at the Remuda Ranch facility there, she returned to Kentucky to finish the school year.
Soon after she came back, she developed a crush on a boy; the two would attend the same Lexington Catholic High School in the fall of 2006 as freshmen. According to the complaint, the boy soon “made several telephone calls to the Plaintiff telling her that he wanted her to create a video with her telephone showing herself pleasuring herself, a video which Defendant [name redacted] said he would use when he masturbated."
The girl at first refused, but the boy allegedly told her that "he would not be her friend at Lexington Catholic High School" without the video.