CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

CrimProf Mary Leary Discusses Protocols Needed in Online Child Exploitation Cases

Leary It’s a crime in which the victim is also the criminal—so whom do you prosecute? Underage youths who exploit themselves online can be subject to criminal pornography charges, explained child abuse expert Catholic University CrimProf Mary Leary at a Law School event Feb. 5, but so far courts are applying the law unevenly. Leary, the former deputy director for the Office of Legal Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the former director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, proposed a better way to deal with what she called “self-exploitation” cases.


Leary, currently an assistant visiting professor of law at Catholic University, spoke to a crowded room of more than 60 Virginia Law students at the event, sponsored by the Virginia Journal of Law and Policy. Leary is writing an article on the subject for the journal. Virginia Law professors Anne Coughlin and Stephen Smith responded to her  remarks.


Juveniles or teens are practicing “self-exploitation when they take sexually explicit photos of themselves and others and distribute them, without coercion or grooming from an adult," Leary said. She cited recent news stories from several states in which teens had taken photos of themselves or others using their cell phones, the images of which were then distributed to friends, some of which ended up on unrelated Internet sites.


“The reality is that whenever a juvenile …creates the images of sexually explicit activities and then distributes them, they have now produced child pornography and they have now distributed it,” she said.


Prosecutors are unsure how to proceed. “On the one hand we have taken…a very aggressive stance with regards to child pornography…and consequently we have pretty severe criminal penalties,” she said. Pointing to the more lenient juvenile court model, Leary continued, “On the other hand…we recognize that often destructive behaviors by a minor can be the result of someone perhaps not fully mature enough to appreciate the social harm of the activity they are causing.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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