Child Threatened With Charges for Explicit Photos: Experts Criticize Law Enforcement Practices

by Gabriel Martinez
Child Protection Laws Misuse

When a father in Ohio discovered that his 11-year-old daughter had been coerced into sending sexually explicit photos to an adult, he sought assistance from the police.

However, instead of categorizing the young girl as a victim, a police officer indicated that she could be charged under laws ostensibly meant to shield minors from such exploitation.

The unsettling exchange was captured on both body camera audio and the father’s doorbell camera last week in Columbus, Ohio. This incident has sparked public outrage and expert criticism, emphasizing the long-standing misuse of child protection laws to criminalize minors themselves.

Specialists argue that the episode highlights an absence of uniform training for law enforcement officers on handling child exploitation cases.

Scott Berkowitz, the founder and president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, expressed his disbelief. “It represents a failure on both legal and ethical grounds. The immediate inclination to blame the child in such a scenario is beyond comprehension,” he said.

The father’s query on whether the police could take any action was met with a jarring response from a female officer: his daughter could face charges for creating “child pornography.” The father objected, asserting that his daughter was manipulated and is a victim. The officer’s reply was dismissive: “It doesn’t matter. She still produced it.” Frustrated, the father ended the conversation and closed the door. The video of the incident, posted on TikTok, has been viewed over 750,000 times as of last Thursday.

Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant was prompt in announcing that the officers’ actions were under review and did not align with the department’s victim treatment guidelines. Columbus police spokesperson Andrés Antequera stated that although their policies are nuanced and consider each case individually, the goal is to protect minors through educational and social services rather than criminal prosecution. Nevertheless, Antequera admitted that Ohio law explicitly states minors can violate the law by creating, possessing, or distributing sexually explicit images, even of themselves.

Legal experts lament the prevalence of such charges against victims. Rebecca Epstein, the executive director of the Center on Gender Justice and Opportunity at Georgetown Law, noted that sexual abuse survivors, particularly girls, are often criminalized instead of supported. “Our society often unfairly attributes guilt to girls who are not even of the legal age to consent,” Epstein remarked.

Over the past two decades, as the prevalence of cellphone cameras and “sexting” became more widespread, juvenile justice advocates have been combating efforts by prosecutors to charge minors for sharing explicit content consensually. Riya Saha Shah, the senior managing director of the Juvenile Law Center, asserted that using sexual exploitation laws against minors not only misinterprets the legislation but also undermines its very purpose.

Berkowitz emphasized the critical role of specialized training for law enforcement officers in interviewing and interacting with child victims of sexual crimes, a resource which appears to be in short supply.

While it is difficult to quantify the exact number of minors charged under such circumstances, experts like Shah note that the prosecutorial focus tends to be more on punishment rather than investigation or support, a trend they find both disappointing and unsurprising.

Berkowitz concluded by stating that a lack of training resources cannot justify actions that blame the victim. “The basic principle that should be upheld is that when a child is abused by an adult, all efforts should be concentrated on stopping the abuse, rather than shifting the blame onto the child,” he said.

The Associated Press has sought additional information on the training received by the responding officers and why specialized departments within the Columbus Division of Police were not engaged. Responses are still pending as of last Thursday.

This report comes from Samantha Hendrickson, a corps member for the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, a non-profit organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underrepresented issues.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Child Protection Laws Misuse

What is the central issue discussed in the article?

The article focuses on a case in Ohio where an 11-year-old girl was threatened with criminal charges for explicit photos she was coerced into sending. It scrutinizes the misuse of child protection laws that were originally designed to protect minors from exploitation.

Who are the key figures mentioned in the article?

Key figures include the unnamed Ohio father and his daughter, a female police officer, Scott Berkowitz of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant, and legal experts Rebecca Epstein and Riya Saha Shah.

What has been the public and expert reaction to the case?

Both the public and experts have criticized the handling of the case. The video of the incident has been viewed over 750,000 times on TikTok, generating widespread public outrage. Experts in the fields of law and child welfare have also condemned the police officer’s actions, citing the misuse of laws intended to protect children.

What is the stance of the Columbus Police Department?

Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant has announced that the officers’ conduct is under investigation. Spokesperson Andrés Antequera stated that their general policy aims to protect minors through educational and social services rather than criminal prosecution, but admitted that Ohio law allows for minors to be charged in such cases.

What are experts saying about the misuse of child protection laws?

Experts argue that child protection laws are often misused to criminalize the very minors they are supposed to protect. They emphasize the need for standardized training for police officers on how to handle child exploitation cases correctly and ethically.

What does the article say about the prevalence of such incidents?

The article suggests that such incidents are not isolated and highlights the long-standing issue of minors being criminalized instead of being treated as victims. Legal experts note that this is a common practice and it often results in survivors of sexual abuse being funneled into the criminal justice system.

What are the broader implications for the misuse of child protection laws?

The misuse of child protection laws undermines their original intent, which is to protect children from exploitation. This misuse could have wide-ranging consequences, including discouraging victims from coming forward and compromising the credibility and efficacy of the legal system.

What is being done to address the issue?

The article points out that advocacy groups and legal experts are calling for standardized training for police officers, and some are fighting against prosecutorial efforts to charge minors for sharing explicit content consensually. The case is also under internal investigation by the Columbus Police Department.

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Tim_in_OH September 22, 2023 - 9:08 am

Being from Ohio, this is embarrassing. Hope they sort it out and make sure this never happens again.

LegalEagle September 22, 2023 - 10:31 am

Clearly, there’s a misunderstanding of the law here. These laws were made to protect kids, not criminalize them. Unbelievable.

CryptoGuy September 22, 2023 - 10:59 am

Off-topic but relevant. Systems can be broken, whether its law or tech. We need checks and balances everywhere.

JohnDoe123 September 22, 2023 - 2:05 pm

Wow, I can’t believe they’re tryin to charge the kid. What’s wrong with the system?

ConcernedParent September 22, 2023 - 3:13 pm

Makes me scared to think what’d happen if I reported something for my own kids. The system needs to change, fast.

JennyQ September 22, 2023 - 5:43 pm

Read the article and I’m disgusted. Laws are there to protect, not to victimize the already victimized.

ActivistMike September 22, 2023 - 7:57 pm

This is why we need better training for cops. its not just about physical force, it’s about understanding situations and the law.

Rachel_Lawyer September 22, 2023 - 9:18 pm

The police are supposed to enforce the law, not misuse it. What a fail on both legal and human levels.

Sara_Mills September 23, 2023 - 12:52 am

This is just awful. How can police not see she’s a victim? it’s like blaming a bank for getting robbed.


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