Good news! Our courts are going after child pornographers with a vengeance, using technology like cell phones and social networking sites to locate and trap these heinous criminals and throw the book at them. The only glitch in this admirable fight for justice? The “scum” appear to be our own kids.
Youthful hormones and high-tech communication have dovetailed as of late, and “sexting” is the result — racy pics teens send each other via cell phone. Think this dangerous and vile behavior is part of an edgy subculture? A recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned pregnancy claims that 20 percent of our teens are involved in “sexting” activities. “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity,” Einstein once said, making me wonder if he saw this one coming.
I’m shocked by how widespread this activity has become and grateful to live in a community filled with adults who are “on it” in a big way, from academic and home life consequences to strict monitoring of teen behavior. Still, I’m more shocked by the way the law has swooped in, labeling young, impulsive teenagers child pornographers.
Really? That’s how we fix this? A boy in Texas is arrested on child pornography charges for simply having a racy photo on his phone. A 14-year-old New Jersey girl posts explicit pictures of herself on MySpace and could be forced to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law.
Even Maureen Kanka, Megan’s mother, is appalled. “This shouldn’t fall under Megan’s Law in any way, shape or form” the mother of the raped and murdered Megan Kanka declared, understanding that the MySpace exhibitionist needs help, not an avalanche of legal restrictions that will ruin her life forever.
Legislators in Vermont are trying to stop the madness, creating a bill that would remove the most serious legal consequences for “sexting” kids, such as a lifetime on the state’s Internet sex offender registry. Unfortunately, Vermont’s governor is disinclined to support such a bill, feeling that decisions about these charges should be left up to prosecutors.
Either Gov. Douglas hasn’t been reading the same stories I have, or he thinks the best way to deal with tech-crazed, impulsive teens is to brand them child pornographers and sex offenders. Makes me kind of wonder if our legal system has exceeded our humanity…
Should ’sexting’ be decriminalized?
Making young teens register as sex offenders is foolish, but decriminalization is not the solution — especially for those who pass along sexual images without consent. Let’s not ignore the most relevant question: is this new and exploding behavioral trend good, bad or neutral for those involved and the public at large?
Many must believe it is neutral, or even trivial, if they prefer no systematic consequences. But it is flat-out wrong and dangerous, often with life-impacting consequences for those involved. Especially for the female subjects who are left with their reputation in tatters and future in doubt, while the teen male traffickers get off scot free. As Vicki Courtney, author of “Five Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter,” e-mailed me, “Girls are often convinced to do this for the guys to get their attention. Then in a break-up situation the guys often use it against them later. If you legalize sexting, the guys come out as the clear winners. The girls pay.”
One of the main reasons teens do this is that they don’t think it is a big deal. And how will they ever recognize that it is, without systemic consequences? Most of these same kids would never steal a DVD from a store. They may be tempted to, but they know it is wrong and that they’ll be caught and punished. Being 15 years old and stupid is no excuse.
Passing along someone else’s sexual image is far worse than stealing – yet Andy wants to make being “young and impulsive’” a legal free pass.
By contrast, Kari Glemaker, national director for iCare, pointed out in a recent interview that, “If you shoplift as a minor, there is still a consequence, just not as big as for an adult. Similarly, my county is looking to define sexting as a misdemeanor, without jail time if there is no other criminal background, possibly with a fine or community service, as well as awareness classes. To say there should be no legal consequence until age 18 is ludicrous.”
Andy and other parents agree that sexting is a big deal, but that we shouldn’t treat it as such. I say if we don’t treat it as such then teenagers will never realize it is a big deal.