A 17-year-old male Manassas City, Virginia teen is facing two felony charges for creating and distributing child pornography after he was caught sexting with his 15-year-old girlfriend. Jessica Harbeson Foster, the teen’s lawyer, says that the controversy began when the teen’s girlfriend sent him an explicit photo, which he responded to by creating and sending back an explicit video of himself. His girlfriend’s mother reported the text to police, and prosecutors charged the teenage boy with creating and distributing child pornography, a charge intended for hardcore pornographers who abuse minor children. If convicted, the teen would be placed on the state’s sex offender registry, possibly for life, and could spend up to four years in jail.
The teen was arrested by police and taken to a juvenile detention center, where police forcibly took photos of his genitalia. The Washington Post reported that the teen’s court-appointed guardian ad litem, Carlos Flores Laboy, questioned the legality of police creating what he characterized as child pornography in an effort to prosecute the teen for sexting. Said Laboy, “They’re using a statute that was designed to protect children from being exploited in a sexual manner to take a picture of this young man in a sexually explicit manner. The irony is incredible. As a parent myself, I was floored. It’s child abuse. We’re wasting thousands of dollars and resources and man hours on a sexting case. That’s what we’re doing.”
However, prosecutors and police decided that the photos that they took were inadequate, as the intended purpose was to compare them with the video he sent to his girlfriend. Foster, the teen’s lawyer, indicated that Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Claiborne Richardson, representing the prosecutors in the case, demanded that the teen either plead guilty to the charges or another search warrant would be obtained for “pictures of his erect penis.” The teen refused to plead guilty to the charges, and the search warrant was issued by a court magistrate. Foster asked officials how it would be possible for police to obtain pictures of the teen in an aroused state, and it was indicated that the teen would be forcibly injected with an erection-inducing drug. An official reportedly told Foster, “We just take him down to the hospital, give him a shot and then take the pictures that we need.” Foster also indicated that a detective told her that special software would then be used to compare pictures of the genitalia.
Foster, in an effort to buy time to prevent the teen from being forced to comply with the bizarre warrant, attained permission from the judge for the teen to leave town to visit family. The judge allowed him to leave town prior to complying with the warrant, much to the dismay of prosecutors. However, Foster’s legal maneuver only hit the pause button on the invasive warrant, as the teen is due back in court on July 15.
This case has serious implications for Virginia teens. According to a recent study noted by Time, 54 percent of teens polled admitted to having engaged in sexting, which, in some jurisdictions, could result in children facing life-ruining child pornography charges. Furthermore, if Manassas City officials get their way, future teens accused of sexting could also be forced to take erection-inducing drugs and pose for explicit photos.
UPDATED 7/10, 6:00 PM CST: The Associated Press is reporting that, due to a groundswell of public outrage that arose in response to media coverage on this story, Manassas City Police Lieutenant Brian Larkin has indicated that his department is canceling its plan to take the second round of explicit photos and will allow the warrant to expire without being served.