On Sept. 14, 2017, the Washington State Supreme Court convicted 21-year-old Eric Gray of distributing an image of a “minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.” The minor was his 17-year-old self and the image was a sexual selfie of his own erect penis that he sent to a 22-year-old woman back in 2013.
A Supreme Court case involving a sexual selfie
Gray has Asperger’s Syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects one’s ability to socialize and communicate. He sent the picture to the woman while also making harassing phone calls to her home. Though he was charged with sending the pic and making the calls, he was only convicted for the photo.
When he appealed his lower court ruling, the appellate court decided, “The legislature can rationally decide that it needs to protect children from themselves by eliminating all child pornography, including self-produced images that were not created for commercial reasons.”
Gray then appealed to the state Supreme Court with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Columbia Legal Services, the Juvenile Law Center and a child rights organization called TeamChild joining his defense. They argued that the state has no right to prosecute a minor for taking and distributing a photo of himself.
But the Supreme Court disagreed.
In a 6 – 3 decision, the Supreme Court said that the state’s law was written in such a way to to prosecute anyone who “develops, publishes or disseminates a visual depiction of any minor engaged in sexual conduct,” even if that person is just sending pictures of themselves.
A large number of teens send sexual selfies
Keep in mind that 18% to 22% of all teens send sexually explicit messages that sometimes involve pictures of their naked bodies or aroused genitals — that’s roughly 7.5 to 9.1 million teens nationwide, more than the entire population of New York City.
Gray’s legal team worries that his conviction will make it harder to prosecute revenge porn and other questionable dissemination of self-created sexual images.
For example, if a young person takes a sexual image of themselves and sends it to a lover, and that lover later shares the image online (or threatens to), then the person who took the image might not tell any adults or law enforcement officers that they’re being harmed because they themselves can also be prosecuted for taking the image in the first place.
The Supreme Court ruling means that Gray has been found guilty of a second-degree felony and will possibly be sentenced to 30 days confinement and 150 hours of community service. He will also be publicly listed as a registered sex offender.
Featured image by 4×6 via iStock