Video via cell phones distribution, expert says
Saturday, January 12, 2008
BY REGGIE SHEFFIELD AND JOHN LUCIEW
Of The Patriot-News
The proliferation of cell phones among teens has given them new ways to communicate through voice, music and images.
It's also given them new ways to get into trouble.
Two Harrisburg High School students could face child pornography charges, among other charges, after they were accused of using a cell phone to videotape a girl, 14, performing oral sex on them and sending the clip to friends using their phones.
Sexual contact with a minor can break state law. Taping it and sending it around to pals can be considered distribution of child pornography, a federal offense that could mean a longer sentence, a former prosecutor said.
"Federal law prohibits using a minor who can't give consent in the production of a sexually explicit image," said Pat Trueman, the former head of the U.S. Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity section, who helped oversee federal criminal prosecutions of that sort in the midstate between 1987 and 1993.
"A boy takes a picture of his girlfriend and the next week they break up and the boy posts the photos. Once the pictures are posted, you never get them back. They now get posted throughout Europe and different child porno sites will sell them to their users. It goes like wildfire on the Internet," Trueman said.
While video recording the images has a 5-year minimum prison sentence, the sentence for distributing the images starts at 15 years, Trueman said. Anyone who forwarded the clip could face 15 years for every time he or she sent it.
"With the cell phones, it's so easy to quickly disseminate them," said local defense lawyer Robert Daniels, who has represented defendants charged with sexually related offenses.
"It's so easy to use. In the palm of your hand, you have technology that they couldn't envision when they drafted the laws," Daniels said.
Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed said city police have the technology to track the cell phone transfer of video files to whoever received it. But Reed said he doubted police would charge those who merely received and watched the clip and didn't send it on.
Prosecutors have yet to file charges, Dauphin District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr. said Friday.
"It's child pornography," Marsico said. "Anybody who looks at a 14-year-old engaged in a sex act counts as child pornography. Anyone who distributes that in any way is criminally liable," he said.
According to officials and a relative of the girl, the sex acts occurred after school Wednesday at a private residence. The two 18-year-old men are accused of distributing the clip by sending it to other students' cell phones during school Thursday.
School officials discovered the clip Thursday after it created a stir at school.
The girl's relative criticized Principal Evangelene Kimber's initial handling of the incident and her failure to immediately contact police.
The relative said Kimber sent the girl home Thursday afternoon before speaking with police and told the girl and her guardian to think about whether they wanted to file charges on Monday.
Superintendent Gerald Kohn said that because police officers are permanently deployed at the school, it was inevitable there would be a police investigation, regardless of the initial handling of the incident.
Kohn said Kimber was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment.
Kohn said school officials contacted police Thursday, but relatives said officers did not interview the girl until Friday. Police Chief Charles Kellar said he received the incident report "late on Thursday."
"She's childlike," the relative said. "She still plays with Barbie dolls. She's not a street girl. All children ought to be protected."
The Patriot-News is not identifying the relative because it does not identify victims of sex crimes.
Marsha Gilmer-Tullis, the director of the family advocacy division of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children based in Alexandria, Va., recommended that the girl receive immediate professional counseling.
"It really crosses the board from this kind of situation, where you have a sex act that's being sent out, to some of the other kinds of cases that we know about where children are being harassed or bullied. The trauma is really the same," Gilmer-Tullis said.
"They're kids. It's peer pressure and everything that goes along with being a teenager comes into play," she said.
"Anytime a teenager is going to be faced with public humiliation, with shame, with ridicule, it can create some long-term emotional and psychological damage for them," she said.
Staff writer Matt Kemeny contributed to this report. REGGIE SHEFFIELD: 255-8170 or email@example.com JOHN LUCIEW: 255-8171 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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