Tag: Sexting

Sexting Panic

Meet the latest victim of our hysteria over sexting:

In October of last year, during an unrelated investigation, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department seized the cell phone of a 17-year-old boy. He had a 17-year-old girlfriend. “While our investigators went through the phone they saw there were photos of himself and another person on the phone,” Sergeant Sean Swain told a local news outlet. “Simple possession having it on your cell phone is a charge itself, and if you should send it out to another person that is another charge.”

Now the boy faces five counts of “sexual exploitation of a minor” and the girl faces unspecified charges. Laws intended to protect kids are being used to prosecute them.

Had these images gone undiscovered they’d likely have done no harm at all to these young people. But thanks to the authorities, the boy has now had his photograph and name––which I am withholding but is easily found––published in the local newspaper and broadcast on television. He has been suspended from his high school football team. For months, he has had to deal with the intense anxiety stoked by facing charges of this sort and the prospect of life as a registered sex offender.

This is insane. And it’s not an isolated incident. About a year ago, I noted a case where the police wanted to force a kid to get an erection to confirm that some sext pics were his. In that incident, I said:

Look, I don’t want teens sending naked pictures of themselves around willy-nilly either. But the legal system is not designed for the subtleties of a parental chat. Once you call in the legal system, it deals with things the way it is designed to: with maximum firepower.

At the very least, we need to rewrite our laws to deal with this. It is insane and ridiculous to charge teens with kiddie porn for taking pictures of themselves. Teenagers have been taking naked pictures of themselves since the camera was invented. Hell, somewhere out there is probably a cave painting some prehistoric teenager made of his dick in an effort to impress a cute cavegirl.

I can’t say I’m surprised that we haven’t gotten anywhere on this. Violent crime has plunged in the last twenty years and it seems like the government’s response is to invent new crimes to keep the law enforcement industrial complex going. Witness prostitutes in Alaska being charged with sex trafficking … themselves. Now we have yet another teenager charged with exploiting … himself. Maybe they’ll tack on a molestation charge if he turns out to have masturbated.

Charges like this are usually justified by law enforcement as being necessary to teach kids that sexting has consequences. The Kafka-esque logic behind that is absurd: “we have to teach you that sexting can ruin your life by … ruining your life.” But there’s really no one fighting against this dangerous nonsense.

Last year, Hannah Rosin wrote a long form piece on sexting: why kids do it and how communities are responding. The upshot is that our laws are way behind the times. Many states don’t want to lessen the penalties for fear of being called soft on exploitation. And others have lessened the penalties but still regard sexting by minors as a criminal offense which can eventually be a felony. Rosin focuses on Donald Lowe, a sheriff dealing with a sexting scandal in Louisa County, Virginia, trying to navigate the law without ruining anyone’s life.

About a month into the investigation, Donald Lowe concluded that the wide phone-collection campaign had added up to one massive distraction. Yes, the girls who appeared on Instagram had done something technically illegal by sending naked photos of themselves. But charging them for that crime didn’t make any sense. “They thought they were doing it privately,” he told me, reaching much the same conclusion as Levick. “We’re not helping them at all by labeling them at an early age.” Lowe recalled to me a girl in his own high-school class who had developed a reputation as “the county slut, and it took her years and years to overcome that.” These girls didn’t need their names in the paper to boot.

The case Lowe was dealing with a little more complicated because some boys had put a bunch of sexts onto Instagram without the girls’ consent. But one problem he was up against was enormous community pressure to “do something” about … well, whatever people imagined was going on.

Law needs to change. That much is certain. But we need to change too. We need to stop reacting to stories like this by seeing the boys as predators or the girls as sluts. We need to stop seeing predators behind every blade of grass. We need to realize that teenagers are both stupid and horny and they are going to do stupid things like send naked pictures to each other. In short, we need to find the path that works so well with other vices: harm reduction. Educate teens about sexting (although they won’t listen). Work on ways to get pictures off of the internet and to punish genuine exploiters. But for goodness sake, don’t charge kids with child porn for sending each other naked pictures.

DA’s and Their Porn

Huh?:

A Manassas City teenager accused of “sexting” a video to his girlfriend is now facing a search warrant in which Manassas City police and Prince William County prosecutors want to take a photo of his erect penis, possibly forcing the teen to become erect by taking him to a hospital and giving him an injection, the teen’s lawyers said. A Prince William County judge allowed the 17-year-old to leave the area without the warrant being served or the pictures being taken — yet.

The teen is facing two felony charges, for possession of child pornography and manufacturing child pornography, which could lead not only to incarceration until he’s 21, but inclusion on the state sex offender data base for, possibly, the rest of his life. David Culver of NBC Washington first reported the story and interviewed the teen’s guardian, his aunt, who was shocked at the lengths Prince William authorities were willing to go to make a sexting case in juvenile court.

What happened here is that a 15-year-old girl sent some photos to a 17-year-old boy. At this point, the nature of those photos and the relationship of the two teens is unknown. He then sent her a video of his dick. The 15 year-old’s mother saw the video and contacted the police. The police charged with him making and distributing child pornography but had to drop the charges at trial because they hadn’t certified he was a minor. They are apparently bringing new charges for a July court date and have filed a warrant to take a picture of his erect member.

I held back on posting this to see what the Manassas cops had to say for themselves. I got caught on the Kaitlin Hunt thing a couple of years back. Their claim is that the kid sent video to the 15 year-old after being repeatedly told to stop. Assuming that is true — we’ve seen law enforcement publicity flacks lie before in controversial cases — they could be charging him with harassment or something like that (sex between consenting 15- to 17-year-olds is legal in Virginia). But no, they appear to be going with the absurd route of bringing kiddie porn charges against a teenager for taking pictures of himself. If convicted, he would be in prison until at age 21 and on a sex offender registry for the rest of his life. So they want to ruin this kid’s life over a dirty video.

To add insult to injury, they now want to collect evidence by strapping this kid to a gurney, giving him a drug to make him erect and taking more pictures of his genitals (in addition to ones they’ve already taken). Keep in mind: under the legal theory they are advancing, he is the victim here. He’s not being charged with sending out pictures of other nude teens; just himself. How is this not further victimization of the supposed victim?

(Doug Mataconis, in the comments to his post, notes that there is not a fifth amendment problem, since this is regarded as evidence collection, not testimony.)

Look, I don’t want teens sending naked pictures of themselves around willy-nilly either. But the legal system is not designed for the subtleties of a parental chat. Once you call in the legal system, it deals with things the way it is designed to: with maximum firepower.

At the very least, we need to rewrite our laws to deal with this. It is insane and ridiculous to charge teens with kiddie porn for taking pictures of themselves. Teenagers have been taking naked pictures of themselves since the camera was invented. Hell, somewhere out there is probably a cave painting some prehistoric teenager made of his dick in an effort to impress a cute cavegirl.

If this kid was sending unsolicited dick picks, there are harassment laws and indecent exposure laws to deal with it. But to bring these kind of charges? And to demand this kind of medical procedure? “Teaching someone a lesson” by ruining his life is not a sane approach to law.