Parents of Iowa teen sue prosecutor to stop sexting charges
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The parents of a 14-year-old Iowa girl are suing a prosecutor to stop him from charging their daughter with sexual exploitation of a minor or child pornography for sending suggestive photos of herself to a boy.
The lawsuit filed in federal court asks a judge to issue an injunction preventing Marion County Attorney Ed Bull from filing criminal charges against the girl who sent two photos to a boy in her school last spring via Snapchat. The boy apparently shared them with other students and they were discovered among many others during a sexting investigation at Knoxville High School, which has about 600 students.
The lawsuit was filed in September and amended Thursday to add new arguments and to add the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa as attorneys for the girl, who is identified only as Nancy Doe.
In one photo, the girl is wearing underwear and no bra, but her hair covers her breasts, according to Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director. In the other, she’s wearing underwear and a sports bra.
Bettis said the photos are not obscene and are not illegal under Iowa law.
Bull, however, alleges in court documents that the photos do constitute nudity as defined in an Iowa code section when such photos are sent “for the purpose of arousing or satisfying the sexual desires of a person who may view a visual depiction of the nude minor.”
“Nancy Doe likely violated Iowa’s statute criminalizing the sexual exploitation of a minor,” he said.
He asks the federal court to dismiss the case and not to intervene in a state prosecution.
Bull told the girl’s family she could avoid charges if she agreed to admit guilt, take classes regarding sexting, relinquish her cellphone for the summer and complete 50 hours of community service.
In a statement provided by the ACLU, the girl’s mother said the photos don’t reveal any more skin than shown in many swimsuit ads.
“We wish to deal with this as a family in our own manner and in our own time without government interference,” said the woman, identified only as Jane Doe. “It’s our job to raise our daughter, not the county attorney’s.”
Bull did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment beyond what he has said in court documents.
Bettis said the lawsuit is intended to protect the constitutional rights of the girl and her parents.
“It is a violation of the First Amendment for a prosecutor to threaten to bring criminal charges for protected speech and expression,” she said. “As a policy matter, we also believe that it truly defies common sense to threaten to put a child in jail or prison or place her on the sex offender registry for taking a picture of herself.”
The lawsuit also claims Bull is violating the girl’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection because a boy posting a similar photo showing his breast area would not be threatened with prosecution in the same way.
Bettis said Bull has agreed to hold off on filing charges until after a judge makes a decision on the lawsuit.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the lawsuit was filed in September and amended Thursday.