Sadly we are all too familiar with the horrors of child pornography. Case after case seems to attract our attention as adult predators take advantage of the weakest among us. When viewing these cases it makes everyone glad that there are laws to help deal with this sort of crime but it leads to the question-“Where does sexting fall into this?”
Sexting is defined as the act of sending sexually explicit text or pictures of minors (semi-nude or nude) via a cell phone. These messages and pictures are generally passed from cell phone to cell phone until they end up being downloaded onto the Internet. After this has happened they are often then redistributed, edited and quite virtually unable to be stopped or removed from the Internet.
Across the country teens are being charged under a miscarriage of the laws for sending or receiving nude pictures. This involves those who are subjects of the pictures; receive the pictures and those who simply pass it on. It’s the kind of cases that overzealous prosecutors have begun bringing with alarming frequency over the past year or two.
There is a stark difference between the two sorts of crimes. The first represents the almost unspeakable depravity of adult monsters that prey on those who are utterly defenseless. The latter threaten to brand individuals who have yet to reach the age of eighteen as sex offenders for indiscretions that are largely victimless and are not ill-intentioned and are most often highly impulsive.
Parents must understand that the proliferation of cell phones means it’s even easier than ever for teens (and everyone else) to photograph themselves in various states of undress and zap the images all over the place in the wink of an eye. It comes as no surprise that one national survey found that twenty percent of teens have admitted to “sexting” though the numbers are probably much higher.
The first line of defense is for parents to understand the ramifications of this type of behavior. Parents must communicate with their teens that under no uncertain terms is this type of behavior acceptable. If your child already has a cell phone, then setting up guidelines for the use of the phone and computer are essential. Let them know that all pictures that are sent must be approved first by you. If your child does not have a cell phone, then it is crucial that you determine if your child is mature enough to use the privilege of having a cell phone and computer access responsibly. If they are not, there is no harm in holding off giving them one.
For teens who are caught sexting, hopefully the school (and their parents) will impose punishment, and instead of leaving kids a record with possible jail time, society can use these kids to end the trend of sexting. Why not have these teenagers perform community service and speak out to other kids about the dangers of sexting? Have them attend classes that teach about respect and sexual harassment. Let’s not brand these teenagers as sex offenders for an impulsive (albeit stupid) and ill-thought out action.
The bottom line is that if the point of tough child pornography laws is to protect vulnerable kids against predatory creeps, where’s the sense in using those same statutes to go after juveniles who naively, if misguidedly, take nude photos of themselves and send them to others? Modern technology has given kids an unprecedented ease and ability to become photographers and publishers. Prosecutors who do not wake up to this new reality risk branding victims as predators. Child pornography and sexting are two very different problems.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily shared by the editor.