In case you haven’t heard of it before, “Sexting” is the term used for sending risqué photos of yourself electronically, usually via text message. And apparently it has become all the rage with teens now-a-days. Besides some of the obvious problems associated with this, those teens can also be sent to jail and officially labeled as sex offenders for doing it.
The law is clear
The law is pretty clear. Child pornography is a crime. So take a photo of someone under 18, where he or she is nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit, and if you are the one who either produced, distributed, or possess that photo…guess what? You are breaking the law. Even if you are only 14, and it was a photo you took of yourself to send to that cute guy you met online that you want to go out with. The laws are pretty darn cut and dried and don’t distinguish between “traditional” child porn trafficking and sexting. So, do it and you can be prosecuted on a state or federal felony level, and can even lead to having to be labeled as a sex offender.
Trouble for teens
And some teens have already faced charges. This January in Pennsylvania, 6 teenagers were charged. Three girls for creating child porn, and three boys (who it was sent to) for possessing it. In Texas, an eighth-grader actually spent a night in prison after his coach found a nude picture on his cell phone which had been sent by another student. In Wisconsin, a 17-year-old was charged with child pornography after posting naked pictures of his girlfriend, who is a year younger, on the internet. In Rochester, New York, a boy aged 16 faces seven years in jail for circulating an image of a girlfriend to friends.
A 15-year-old girl in Ohio and a 14-year-old girl in Michigan were charged with felonies for sending along nude images of themselves to classmates. Similar charges have been filed in cases in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, and Utah. Some may remember back to the case in Florida a few years ago where a teen couple took pictures of themselves nude, and engaged in “unspecified sexual behavior.” The police got involved somehow when one of the kids sent the photo to the other. They were tried in the courts and convicted for both production and distribution of child pornography, and the teenager who had received the image also had the charge of possession. It was taken to an appeals court, and they lost. The convictions stood.
Intent of the law vs. execution of the law
The thing is, these laws are obviously created to protect children, and these same laws are smacking labels like “sex offender” on kids who probably just did something stupid with absolutely no harmful intention. But, where do we draw the line? Because the reality of it is, that once those pictures are out there…they are out there. It’s not like you can really control what is done with them once they leave your phone. So naive little Susie can send them to her big strong boyfriend Johnny…and big strong Johnny decides to show the picture to his friends and forwards it to all the guys on his football team…and they forward it to all of their contacts…who each stick it on their myspace page,,,,etc. ad nauseum. I mean, of course you see where this could go. Until little Susie’s “assets” are all over the internet and she is watching herself superimposed on YouTube videos.
Lots of kids are sexting
So how many kids are sexting? According to research studies (.pdf) where they polled kids…at least 20% say they have “electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves.” Kind of a scary number. One in five. That is a lot of underage photos floating around out there. CBS legal news analyst Lisa Bloom says about the kids in Pennsylvania that were charged that “This is a serious felony. They could be facing many years in prison,”
But Bloom also added, “What are we going to do, lock up 20 percent of America’s teens?”
Maybe this needs to be rethought
And this mindset may be what is leading to the state of Vermont re-thinking the whole “against the law” thing when it comes to sexting. According to State Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington:
“This isn’t an issue of whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing — I think it’s wrong — but the question is, do we want kids to be prosecuted, called sex offenders, etc., etc., for consensual conduct? No.”
As a result, Vermont’s Legislature is considering a bill that, if it does end getting approved, would be the first in the country to grant legal protection to teens who send “sexually explicit photos and videos to one another on their cell phone”.
The bill is getting a lot of support from all kinds of different groups from lawyers, to law enforcement, to womens groups. There are some that wonder though whether it crosses a line. They agree it is one thing for teens to experiment with sexuality, but by doing this, could we be protecting predators who target and exploit kids. Kind of…wouldn’t it be better to just explain the dangers…explain why they shouldn’t and CAN’T do it, and that is it so that kids can’t be targeted and abused?
What do you think? How should it be handled? Is it no big deal, or should they keep the law in place to safeguard kids? If you were the one making the call…what would you rule?