Sexting stupidity

“Sexting” teens are facing child pornography charges for sending and receiving naked photos, even if it’s a 14-year-old girl sending her own photo to her boyfriend.  Surely, bringing felony sex charges against foolish adolescents isn’t the best way to protect them from their own folly, writes Dahlia Lithwick on Slate.  These kids could end up on a sex offender registry.

. . . the great majority of these kids are not predators and have no intention of producing or purveying kiddie porn. They think they’re being brash and sexy, in the manner of brash, sexy Americans everywhere: by being undressed. 

Online harassment poses a greater risk to teens than voluntary exposure, Lithwick writes.

 Parents need to remind their teens that a dumb moment can last a lifetime in cyberspace. Judges and prosecutors need to understand that a lifetime of cyber-humiliation shouldn’t be grounds for a very real and possibly lifelong criminal record.

One in five teens admitted to “sexting” nude or semi-nude photos to a friend in a national survey.

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  1. You know what? There SHOULD be consequences for that kind of stupidity.

    I say, if they have to go on the registry, fine. Let them try to clear their names at 21 – go to the expense and hassle.

    One of the things wrong with our society, in my opinion, is that far too many people never stop to consider the consequences of their actions. Teens are mature enough to be taught that this kind of thing is NOT smart.

  2. I totally agree with ricki. There needs to be some type of serious consequence to these actions. They also need to be banned from having a cell phone as well. I don’t know how you could enforce the latter, unless you’re a parent, but these kids have clearly shown they aren’t mature enough to handle it. As a parent, I just wouldn’t let my kids have a cell phone without keeping tabs on what they’re doing with it – or what other kids are sending them.

  3. It is not possible in many states to be removed from the list. There are people in Alaska, for example, who will be registered sex offenders for the rest of their lives because they urinated in public.

    Sexting is stupid, but this type of prosecution is worse.

  4. Ricki – there are consequences and there are consequences. The consequences in this case appear to be totally over the top, given that the teenagers are sending pictures of themselves. As Lithwick says, when you’re charging everyone involved – the teenagers who took the pictures of themselves, and the people who they sent it to, who is the victim here? What is the point of over-the-top charges when there’s no victim to protect (based on the detail that everyone involved is being charged)?

    Being mature enough to be taught is not the same as being mature enough to always know better without having been taught.

    Let them try to clear their names at 21 – go to the expense and hassle.

    Oh cool! So a 14 year old takes a nude photo of themselves, and 7 years later, they have to go to a lot of expense and hassle to clear their name. Gosh, a 7 year waiting period! Twice of their entire lives to that point! <sarcasm on> That’ll really teach 14-year olds not to do stupid things! After all, real-life teenagers are so concerned about long-term consequences. You never ever catch them leaving their homework to the last minute or taking up smoking or getting sunburnt! <sarcasm off>

  5. Ricki – yes there should be consequences, but these consequences are over the top. If you are charging both the people who took the nude photos of themselves, and the people who received it, who is the victim you are protecting?

    And, what, you think a 14-year old teenager is going to be deterred from doing something stupid by the thought that at age 21 they might have to go to the expense and hassle of clearing their name? You expect a punishment delayed by 7 years to be a deterrent? Have you ever known a teenager?
    Yes, teenagers are mature enough to be taught that this kind of thing is not smart. The important word here is “taught”.

    There’s this growing idea that if something is wrong in any way, it’s perfectly fine to punish it with the full weight of law. Many people in our culture appear to be losing track of the idea of desert and proportionality, and apparently chose to ignore that there is a massive moral difference between an adult abusing a child sexually, and a teenager making some bad decisions about their future. It shows a loss of the moral values of understanding, mercy, and, bluntly, common sense.

  6. Folks, come on. Teenagers do stupid things, and we need to concentrate the law on actions that are dangerous or realistically harmful to others. This is an absurd, over-the-top reaction.

  7. The consequences each of you are clamoring for do not need to be government enforced. Treating these children, as each of the commenters has admitted they are, as adult sexual predators is idiotic. If someone has received such a picture and then distributes it such that adult sexual predators could access it then they should face consequences of the law–but appropriate to their age and intentions.

    It is ridiculous to expect, as more and more police and educators increasingly do, for perfect behavior from the get-go with any new skill learned especially when those doing the learning are still below the age of majority. We limit young adult’s freedoms through college now and yet start prosecuting as adults shortly after hitting 12 years old. We expect them to behave as well as adults while shielding them from taking responsibility for their own actions when the consequences should allow for their reduced capacity to fully understand their limitations.

    Everyone who thinks that the law is right on this case should recognize that they got a chance to make stupid mistakes (even shoplifting) before the law was always brought in for zero-tolerance on teenage stupidity. If the parents will not levy appropriate consequences then the police can take over the job at 17 or 18, but all kids, even teenagers, need room to make mistakes without ruining their whole lives.

  8. Miller T. Smith says:

    When little 13 y.o.Lisa sends a nude photo of herself to her 14 y.o. boyfriend Bobby and Bobby shares it with Uncle Max, has a crime been committed? Many sickos get the children to photograph each other to avoid the “manufacturing” charge.

    Also, you have a sexually sick kid to begin with doing this crap, so they need to be monitored for the rest of their lives.

  9. Is sexting worse than two 4 year olds playng doctor? I do not think so. If an adult convinces “children to photograph each other” or “play” with each other I think only the adult shold be treated very severely. Ditto if an adult knowingly transmitts or shares these images. But I agree that proving the adult instigated it would be difficult.

  10. Can’t someone just make a cellphone without a camera? Why do these teens need camera-phones?

    If you give your teen a cellphone with a camera, expect this kind of nonsense – it’s a part of over-sexed teen culture. I think the prosecuting of it is ridiculous. Let the embarrassment of being distributed over the web be the punishment. Behave yourself and you won’t have to worry. See Michael Phelps.


  11. Sorry about double posting.

  12. Miller T Smith – so your solution to an adult getting a child to photograph another child is to prosecute the child? And taking a photo of yourself naked makes you not merely a foolish teenager but “sexually sick” and in need of monitoring for the rest of your life? I think we have identified a troll.

  13. I think the hysteria surrounding naked teenagers is absurd. If we had a healthy attitude toward our bodies and about sexuality, this kind of thing would not even matter. Our country is at once getting overly crass and overly timid, and putting children on list of sex offenders isn’t the way we should deal with this ridiculous schism.

    Nudity is normal, sexuality is normal, but punishing children for having bodies and desires is abolutely abnormal and absurd. And as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather my future teenage sons look at their naked classmates than touch them. I’d like to hope that their classmates’ parents would feel the same way.

  14. Bet Miller would change his tune pretty darn quick-like if it were his 15-year-old.

    I think our society is dysfunctional in how it treats teens overall, forget the sexuality.

  15. The laws here were set up to prevent children from being exploited. I seriously what the mens rea is when prosecutors go after kids for exploiting *themselves*.

  16. Quincy, that’s the crux of the issue of “protecting the children”. Some children don’t want the protection, and in another group of cases don’t even actually need it. I’m not of the opinion that these girls and boys need government protection from their enjoyment of each others’ bodies. And I’m damn sure the laws as written won’t provide any.

    We waste our credibility when we tell children that their bodies are theirs and also tell them they can’t use them how they want to. I imagine we could tell them a different message, but we’re way too scared as a nation to tell them to actually enjoy themselves. We can’t even have political appointees even mention masturbation without a million clutched pearls getting pulverized into a fine dust.

  17. Andy Freeman says:

    > There needs to be some type of serious consequence to these actions.


  18. jon –

    It’s not just about protecting the children. Prosecutors are heading into dangerous territory here. Prosecuting a child for taking naked pictures of herself is roughly equivalent to prosecuting someone for attempted murder when he tries to commit suicide. It doesn’t happen because the law should exist to protect a person from other people, not himself.

  19. In a suicide attempt, someone can always come to harm and the government has a responsibility (you can argue whether it’s right or wrong) to intervene in what will likely be a death. In these cases? Not so cut and dried.

  20. jon –

    There’s a big fat difference between intervention, which cops should do, and pressing the criminal charge of attempted murder in a suicide case. Criminal charges require intent to harm another as well as an action that harms another. Key word here is another. Charging a kid with a sex crime for sexting pictures of herself crosses line that has yet to be crossed.

  21. Quincy, agreed. I was just arguing that your suicide analogy was off when compared to someone sending a nude photo to another. The law and police are not the best ways to deal with something like limited exhibitionism.

    I’m still curious as to why two teenagers can be naked together, touch each other, and have sex–all legally–but don’t have the authority over their bodies to grant someone the right to a photograph of their bodies. I’m not even sure a teenager has a right to a photograph of one’s self. It’s absurd, no matter how many pedophiles are allegedly in the hunt for images of teen flesh. There’s far more teenagers out for teen flesh, so maybe it’s best that we make them wear burkas until 18. For protection purposes, naturally.