If Prosecutor Ed Bull had been around when this Sears Catalog was printed, those girls would be "sex offenders."

VICTORY! Teen Girl Who Took Two Selfies in Her Undies is NOT a CHILD PORNOGRAPHER!

An Iowa 14-year-old who took two pictures of herself — one in a bra and “boy shorts” (that is, undies), the other topless but with her hair covering her breasts — had been threatened by Marion County Attorney Ed Bull with prosecution as a child pornographer.

The girl, Jane Doe, was part of a group of kids who’d been caught sexting, and the rest agreed to Bull’s deal whereby they’d admit their guilt, do some community service, take classes on the dangers of sexting and give up their electronic devices for a time. If they did all that, they wouldn’t be prosecuted for a sex crime and possibly end up on the sex offender registry. Jane Doe was the only one who didn’t take that option, and chose to sue the prosecutor instead.

Now, reports my colleague Jacob Sullum at reason.com:

Yesterday the ACLU of Iowa announced that Marion County Attorney Ed Bull, who last year threatened to prosecute a teenager for producing child pornography by using her phone to take pictures of herself in her underwear, has promised not to bring charges. In exchange, the ACLU has withdrawn the lawsuit it filed on behalf of the girl’s parents in November.

Although Bull lost the fight he picked with a 14-year-old girl, the CBS station in Des Moines reports, he has no regrets:

Bull was unrepentant…

“As county attorney, it is my job to pursue justice. Nothing can or will change that,” he said. “I will put the ACLU’s dismissal papers in my file and go right back to work serving my community.”

The TV station says Bull was trying to teach the girl an important lesson about “the life-altering consequences that could arise from being labeled as a sex offender.” Since he was the one threatening to label her as a sex offender, this exercise was rather like burning down a kid’s house to teach him the danger of playing with matches. If Bull had stayed out of what should have been a family matter, there would have been no need for the girl to worry that an adolescent indiscretion might ruin her life.

The sooner we get the “justice” system out of the business of prosecuting kids who sext each other, the sooner parents everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief. Just because laws made long before cell phones now snare young kids in their clutches doesn’t mean that they must be enforced. It means they must be changed.

Until then, prosecutors using them to ruin young people’s lives must be called out for what they are: Creeps who get off on hurting children.

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If Prosecutor Ed Bull had been around when this Sears Catalog was printed, these girls  might be on the sex offender registry.

32 Responses to VICTORY! Teen Girl Who Took Two Selfies in Her Undies is NOT a CHILD PORNOGRAPHER!

  1. Theresa Hall July 17, 2017 at 11:15 am #

    It not like these kids haven’t seen pictures of people in their underwear. Every piece of bras and panties sold in stores have pictures of people wearing nothing but underwear and bras.

  2. AmyP July 17, 2017 at 11:21 am #

    Even if the girl was completely nude this would have been ridiculous. Child pornography is a bad thing, but people exploiting children for sexual purposes and a girl taking pictures of herself are completely different things. Why put them on the same level?

  3. Hazel July 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    “Even if the girl was completely nude this would have been ridiculous. Child pornography is a bad thing, but people exploiting children for sexual purposes and a girl taking pictures of herself are completely different things. Why put them on the same level?”

    I can think of situations where it would be exploitation of a child, but I think those situations are covered by other laws. Like if an adult (outside of Romeo and Juliet statutes) asked a 13/14 year old child to send naked or underwear pics and they did (or even if they didn’t and just asked). That would be bad. But presumably, the adult could be charged under something like promoting a sexual performance by a child or inducing a minor. Not sure about the wording. Anyhoo, stuff where it is actually damaging because the child’s consent was forced or coerced – I would hope that could be prosecuted in other ways.

    Sexualised bullying (where a child is bullied into it by another child or somebody’s boy or girlfriend texts pictures of their partner around) should be dealt with by the school, but probably wouldn’t be.

  4. Michael Fandal July 17, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    Lawmakers are dragging their feet while dragging photogenic socially active youth thru the mud.

  5. Puzzled July 17, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    I can think of situations where it would be exploitation of a child, but I think those situations are covered by other laws. Like if an adult (outside of Romeo and Juliet statutes) asked a 13/14 year old child to send naked or underwear pics and they did (or even if they didn’t and just asked). That would be bad.

    Of course, but even then I think it would be rather clear who should be prosecuted. I can’t think of any circumstances where prosecuting the child (who, if there is a victim, will BE the victim) would make sense.

  6. John B. July 17, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

    This piece of news actually made my day and it’s about damn time that common sense prevailed! I get soooo damn pissed off at “vigilante” Prosecutors and Judges in this day and age who are so quick to “make examples” out of teenagers who commit sexual indiscretions such as sexting, streaking, 17- on 15-year-old, etc., etc, by essentially shattering their future into a million pieces. The ironic thing is, they do this for the “protection” of children. But how is this over reaction helping American society and how is it helping children?

    Because of assholes like Ed Bull, a 15-year-old boy who pulled the adolescent prank of streaking across a football field in Alabama 3 years ago and was then threatened with lifetime registry on the sex offender list, killed himself. That was a horrible tragedy resulting from adult bullying!

    People in positions of power, be they school administrators or District Attorneys or Judges, with this type of attitude need to be slapped up alongside their heads! Now as a 61-year-old man, if I streak naked across a football field or have nude pics of 15-year-old girls or boys on my cell phone, throw me in the slammer and toss away the key. But please, teenagers who act out sexually with each other do so because number 1, they have sexual urges themselves and number 2, they’re immature teenagers so let’s implement a little common sense here.

    I am not saying they are not doing anything inappropriate when they sext naked pics of their girlfriend or boyfriend against their will or streak naked across a football field but there is no need to ruin their life over it. Punish them accordingly and then allow them to move on with their lives!

  7. Jessica July 17, 2017 at 12:58 pm #

    Amen!

  8. AmyP July 17, 2017 at 1:05 pm #

    @Hazel

    I probably didn’t word it very well, but I was including those types of situations under exploration (I know I was pretty vague in my comment) and in that case I would not believe the child should be charged, but the adult.

    If a child was pressured into it by another child, I believe this still wouldn’t be a criminal matter (assuming age differences. If it was a 16 year old doing it to an 8 year old that’s different than children and children and teenagers and teenagers). It’s not a black and white matter I guess. If the pictures were unsolicited and unwanted (even with adults) I could see it being prosecuted under other things after having notified the person to stop (stalking maybe?) but sending nude pictures of yourself to other people would not be a crime in itself without other factors.

  9. AmyP July 17, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    Exploration not exploration (that changes what I said entirely!)

  10. AmyP July 17, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    Exploitation. Apparently apple does not believe that’s a word….

  11. Judas Peckerwood July 17, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    @John B.: “Now as a 61-year-old man, if I streak naked across a football field or have nude pics of 15-year-old girls or boys on my cell phone, throw me in the slammer and toss away the key.”

    You shouldn’t be locked up for life for streaking. Simple nudity should not be a crime.

  12. Crazy Cat Lady July 17, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

    It sounds like what the girl “showed” was less than what any boy or girl would see at the local beach or pool. Also, less skin than some covers of “major” (not pornographic) magazines that had photos of naked pregnant women shown from the side.

  13. TheOtherAnna July 17, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

    Too bad they dropped the lawsuit. This man is a monster and must be stopped from “serving his community” any further.

  14. Donald July 17, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

    Bull was just doing his job. The Nazis that sent people to the death camps were only doing their job. It’s easy to disregard morals and justify your actions by hiding hide under the rules.

    “this exercise was rather like burning down a kid’s house to teach him the danger of playing with matches.”

    LOVE IT!

  15. DrTorch July 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

    “Creeps who get off on hurting children.”

    Bravo. Hope Marion County gets this guy out of office, sooner rather than later.

  16. BL July 17, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

    “this exercise was rather like burning down a kid’s house to teach him the danger of playing with matches.”

    I wonder if this guy drives his car around looking for jaywalkers to run over.

  17. James Pollock July 17, 2017 at 5:25 pm #

    “I can think of situations where it would be exploitation of a child, but I think those situations are covered by other laws.”

    Sometimes laws are written so as to be easier to administer.

    For example, the reality of the matter is that some underage people are fully capable of making an informed decision about whether or not they want to have sex, and some underage people are not yet fully capable of making an informed decision about whether or not they want to have sex.

    It would be fairly challenging for a prosecutor to prove A) that a specific sexual encounter was consensual, and B) that the person was fully capable of consent. Both of these are often cloudy and difficult to prove.
    So, instead, we set a firm cutoff line at whatever the local age of consent is, and anybody under that age is legally considered to be incapable of consent. This means that the prosecution doesn’t have to prove the issue of consent, or the issue of capacity for consent… they produce the person’s birth certificate, count the days and years since the date of birth, and if the number comes up short, the defendant is guilty.

    You can see a similar “ease of administration” dynamic at work in other situations… was a student freely giving consent to a teacher, or is there an issue of coercion because the teacher has power over the student?

    So, we have a very strict system for determining child pornography, too. It’s A) is the person underage, and B) is the person shown showing specific patches of skin (or a small laundry list of other things). Then, when you have specific cases where there is a technical violation of the law but the intention is not pornographic, then prosecutorial discretion is supposed to be applied.

    One of the ethical rules that is specific to prosecutors is that they are not supposed to bring cases that do not serve the purpose of justice. It is possible (but amazingly rare) for prosecutors to be punished by the bar association for bringing cases that do not serve justice.

  18. David N. Brown July 17, 2017 at 6:31 pm #

    What I find most interesting is that the case approaches a stereotypical pattern seen in drug-related prosecutions: Men who receive and distribute the “goods” get a chance to bargain, esp if they have information on bigger fish. Women who merely supply what the men demand get a plea bargain if they’re lucky and hard time if they aren’t. The big difference is that those who benefited from eventual reforms in drug sentences were free to go, whereas sex offender registration data can stay in circulation thru cybervigilantes even it’s somehow removed from official databases.

  19. sexhysteria July 18, 2017 at 2:48 am #

    There is some evidence that even real pornography does NOT increase the frequency of sex crimes: http://reason.com/archives/2007/11/05/is-pornography-a-catalyst-of-s

  20. Willow July 18, 2017 at 4:12 am #

    Ha ha, a bra for $3.50! This IS an old ad!

  21. James Pollock July 18, 2017 at 5:25 am #

    “There is some evidence that even real pornography does NOT increase the frequency of sex crimes:”

    “real” pornography has a very low incidence of featuring actual criminal activity; rape scenes in porn (and in mainstream productions) is nearly always simulated, and made with the consent of all parties involved.

    Child porn, on the other hand, nearly always involves people who cannot give legal consent.

    This is why child porn is illegal (in the U.S., it falls outside the protection of the first amendment) and, despite the earnest wishes of a small but highly vocal minority, pornography featuring adults is for the most part not illegal.
    By this reasoning, photography and video recordings of actual children should be in one category, and several “child-porn adjacent” things should not. For example, taking performers who ARE adults but who look like children and setting them in a story playing children should be legal. Using artistic tools to create images that appear to be of children, but which do not involve actual abuse of children, should be legal. Courts have wavered a bit on these. And then there’s the ever-present challenge of dealing with images which involve nudity but are not intended to be pornographic. The stereotypical “naked baby on the rug” family picture. The famous Pulitzer-Prize winning photo of a young Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack. News coverage of the World Naked Bike Ride. Surveillance cameras can present a whole can o’ worms.

    In recent years, there has been an effort in many U.S. States to create a criminal statute to apply to “creepershots” or “upskirt” photography, because the old peeping tom statutes didn’t apply to public places. It has proven quite difficult to write a statute that criminalizes what they want to criminalize without either also capturing other things that they don’t want to criminalize, or running into first amendment challenges (or, of course, both.)

  22. Theresa Hall July 18, 2017 at 10:22 am #

    It be nice if the victim and the bad guy couldn’t be the same person. I still find illogical bad guy and victim to be the same person. No other crime would have that issue.

  23. BL July 18, 2017 at 10:37 am #

    “It be nice if the victim and the bad guy couldn’t be the same person. I still find illogical bad guy and victim to be the same person. No other crime would have that issue.”

    To a large extent that’s the logic behind drug laws, to protect people from themselves.

    I remember listening to a local radio talk show where a local cop went on and on about how important it was to keep people from using marijuana for their own good (as in throwing them in prison if they used it). This same cop got some irate calls from radio listeners about burglaries, which he dismissed as a “very minor crime”.

  24. Rachael July 18, 2017 at 10:57 am #

    For the sears catalig… the girls would have gotten off, been supported with years of therapy. The photographers and anyone else involved, not to mention everyone who had the audacity to open the catalog, they are in serious trouble.

  25. KJ July 18, 2017 at 11:28 am #

    Willow-
    Another sign that this ad is dated – the bra comes “in average and chubby sizes”

  26. John B. July 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    @Judas:

    If you saw me nude, you’d want me locked up! 😉

  27. James Pollock July 18, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    “It be nice if the victim and the bad guy couldn’t be the same person. I still find illogical bad guy and victim to be the same person. No other crime would have that issue.”

    Attempted suicide. Reckless driving.

  28. Ariel July 19, 2017 at 5:16 am #

    “Since he was the one threatening to label her as a sex offender, this exercise was rather like burning down a kid’s house to teach him the danger of playing with matches. If Bull had stayed out of what should have been a family matter, there would have been no need for the girl to worry that an adolescent indiscretion might ruin her life.” A prosecutor has discretion and the laws have ambiguity. That ambiguity should be applied in favor of the supposed law-breaker (I can’t find a better way of phrase for the person that shouldn’t have been charged in the first place), and the prosecutor should do that through his discretion. Instead, you have Bull. Way too much Bull.

    Sollum really nailed down the nonsense of Bull’s argument. Essentially, Bull’s making the same argument that Arnett quoted as the words of a US Army officer over Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

  29. aebhel July 19, 2017 at 10:30 am #

    @James Pollock, I firmly believe that attempted suicide (and drug possession, for that matter) should not be prosecuted for exactly those reasons. And in fact, attempted suicide is generally grounds for having someone involuntarily committed, but not for locking them in jail. Which, yes, is a semantic difference to some degree, but I think the distinction matters. Someone who is a danger to themselves needs help, not punishment. Whether or not it’s ethical to force them to get that help is a can of worms that I’m not prepared to open right now, but it’s very clear that imprisoning underage sexters has not even the pretense of trying to help them. And in fact, many (most?) age of consent laws have exceptions for people who are both under the age of consent, as long as they’re close to the same age. These kinds of laws are the equivalent of prosecuting two 15-year-olds for rape because they had consensual sex.

    Reckless driving endangers everyone on the road, so it’s not really the same thing.

  30. James Pollock July 19, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

    ” I firmly believe that attempted suicide (and drug possession, for that matter) should not be prosecuted for exactly those reasons.”
    The INTENDED victim may be the self, but attempted (and completed) suicides may have other victims as well.

    “it’s very clear that imprisoning underage sexters has not even the pretense of trying to help them.”
    If you punish one for doing it, you convince some number of others to be careful in doing it, and some number of others to not do it at all. (The “make an example out of ’em!” logic is present in a fairly significant number of laws, although the professionals use the term “deterrence” because it sounds better.)

    “many (most?) age of consent laws have exceptions for people who are both under the age of consent, as long as they’re close to the same age.”
    The quantifier you were looking for there is “some”.

    “Reckless driving endangers everyone on the road, so it’s not really the same thing.”
    Throwing yourself off a building endangers everyone on the sidewalk below. Shooting at yourself endangers everyone in the path of the bullet behind you. So, yeah, the same thing.

  31. Reckless and Dangerment July 20, 2017 at 5:11 pm #

    JP – you won’t win this argument unless you demonstrate how throwing oneself off of a building can endanger anyone else.

    Please choose a really tall building.

  32. James Pollock July 20, 2017 at 5:35 pm #

    “you won’t win this argument unless you demonstrate how throwing oneself off of a building can endanger anyone else. Please choose a really tall building.”

    Come stand at the bottom of the building, cowardly nameless critic, and the demonstration will be completed.