In October of last year a Texas eighth-grader spent the night in a juvenile detention center after his football coach found a nude picture on his cell phone, sent by fellow student. In January of this year three western Pennsylvania high school girls were charged with child pornography for sending semi-nude cell phone pictures of themselves. Last month in Indiana a teenage boy was indicted on felony obscenity charges for sending a photo of his private parts via “sext” to several female classmates.
There is nothing new to the notion that technology has created a bucket-load of new crimes. But like everything else, the technology is ahead of legislators and the criminal justice system. If a 16-year-old girl willingly sends a naked picture of herself to her same aged boyfriend, are we shocked? It seems relatively harmless, right? Maybe… or depending on the jurisdiction and the prosecutor it could be considered a crime (that is, sending and possessing child porn). It all depends on which way you view it. Is it innocent child play or criminally dangerous behavior?
Taking it a step further, what happens when that 16-year-old boyfriend forwards that “sext message” to 100 people, or even just three of his closest friends? Besides the fact that it is mortifying to the young girlfriend (and invading her privacy), the boy could be subjected to charges of disseminating child porn, a crime that can includes jail and a lifetime registration as a sex offender. Now, I am not here to argue that the child should not be punished. Of course there should be consequences. But should that 16-year-old now be a registered sex offender? I say hell no!
We can argue whether or not the boyfriend’s actions should be considered criminal or merely a boyish prank. But the bigger issue is whether or not this 16-year-old can really be considered a sexual predator that belongs on a sex registration list. I do believe the boy should be punished, charged with harassment, bullying, or whatever. Requiring registration, however, in this case only does one thing: undermines the sex offender registry. As parents and citizens, we need to know what we are talking about when we refer to sex offenders. Most people agree that this list should be reserved for the “true” predators and molesters who have a likely chance of recidivism (repeating the crime of seeking young victims as sexual prey). When you hear child porn you think an adult with pictures of a pre-pubescent or barely pubescent child. Not 16-year-olds sending pictures of themselves naked.
Several states see my argument and agree. Here are some recent legislative developments around the country:
Vermont lawmakers introduced a bill in April 2009 to legalize the consensual exchange of graphic images between two people 13 to 18 years old. Passing along such images to others would remain a crime. In Ohio, a county prosecutor and two lawmakers proposed a law that would reduce sexting from a felony to a first-degree misdemeanor, and eliminate the possibility of a teenage offender being labeled a sex offender for years. In Cincinnati the proposal to lesson sexting was supported - even by the parents of Jessie Logan, an 18-year-old who committed suicide after a naked picture of herself (which she sexted) was forwarded to people in her high school. Utah lawmakers lessened the penalty for sexting for someone younger than 18 from a felony to a misdemeanor.
But more needs to be done; specifically in the areas of parenting and educating our teens. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, a private nonprofit group whose mission is to protect children, along with CosmoGirl.com, surveyed nearly 1,300 teens about sex and technology. The result: 1 in 5 teens say they have sexted even though the majority knows it could be a crime, they continue to do it.
So, friends, I ask you…where do you stand on what do about “sexting??” Let me know I what your thoughts....email me at http://www.robinsax.com/.