A federal judge in Pennsylvania said that three teen girls who posed semi-nude for pictures distributed via cellular phone could not be forced to attend behavior classes as a prosecutor demanded.
In the temporary restraining order filed Monday, Judge James Munley prevents District Attorney George Skumanick from filing child pornography charges against the girls, who were 13 when the pictures were taken. He said the pictures were not illegal and that there was no reason to prosecute.
The sending of sexually suggestive pictures to portable phones or posting them on blogs, known as "sexting" -- a play on the word "texting" -- is a popular practice among US teens.
Teachers at a Pennsylvania high school alerted the authorities in October after discovering a waist-up image of two girls covered just by a bra, and another image of a girl topless on the portable telephones of several school students.
Skumanik called for the girls to undergo five weeks of behavior courses and take a drug test or face prosecution, according to a letter sent to the teenagers' parents.
Skumanik described the pictures as "provocative," and insisted the teens need to "gain an understanding of how (their) actions were wrong," as well as "what it means to be a girl in today's society."
If they did not meet his demand Skumanik threatened to press child pornography charges, in accordance with Pennsylvania law.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued Skumanik on behalf of the teens, arguing that his threat was unconstitutional because it forced the girls to recognize their guilt for something that was not wrong, and prosecution could have landed the girls on the sex offenders register, tarnishing future job prospects.
The teens "have a constitutional right to avoid the courses ... because the girls' pictures were not illegal," Munley wrote.
According to a survey by a US family planning organization, published in December, 20 percent of American teenagers said they had participated in sexting.