Can an adolescent girl who sends nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend face prosecution for child pornography? Incredibly, the answer is yes!
“Sexting” is a new phenomenon that describes the process by which teens send nude, semi-nude, or otherwise risqué pictures or videos of themselves or others via cell phone. The child or teen receiving the picture or video can easily download it onto the Internet, where millions of surfers can view it.
If the individual in the picture is under 18 years old, then taking, sending, or possessing the photo is in violation of child pornography laws. As it stands today, if an individual under the age of 18 takes a nude photo of herself and distributes it to others, she is in violation of these laws.
The penalties for these crimes are stiff. You can go to prison, and when you are paroled, you have to register as a sex offender. Such registration means your name and picture will be on the Internet and other media, making it hard for you to get a job. Many sex offenders have had to move multiple times because their neighbors harass them.
A survey of 1,280 young people that was conducted this year by the National Campaign to Prevent Teenage and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl magazine found that one in five teenagers has “sexted,” as well as one in three young adults, ages 10 to 26 years old. Females sexted as often as males, and the most common reason was to be “fun and flirtatious.”
Even though many teens believe sexting is harmless, authorities in certain counties are indeed prosecuting them as child pornographers. These officials take the matter seriously, pointing to cases like that of Jessica Logan, a 16-year-old Ohio girl. Jessica sent a nude picture of herself to her boyfriend, who then transmitted all over their high school. She subsequently hanged herself.
Right now several teens are facing legal charges for sexting, including one 14-year-old New Jersey girls who published 30 nude pictures of herself on the social networking site MySpace.
According to an article (from Akron Beacon Journal), the Center for Missing and Exploited Children saw these photos and contacted their New Jersey Task Force, which in turn contacted the Passiac County Sheriff. The teen girl now faces 17 years in prison if convicted.
Other cases include the following:
• A New York boy who broadcast sexy pictures from a party to over 300 classmates is also facing charges.
• One Florida teen who engaged in "sexting" has to register as a sex offender until he is 43 years old.
• Similar cases are scheduled to be adjudicated in Pennsylvania and Vermont.
• The one case every prosecutor is watching involves two Florida teenagers who took pictures of themselves having sexual contact and kept them on a computer. This case went all the way to the Florida Court of Appeals, which ruled that the pictures could become child pornography.
What all this means is that teenagers can get into serious trouble for sexting, although many unanswered questions remain, such as the following:
• Are these kids protected under Freedom of Speech laws?
• Is it fair to confiscate cell phones from students in classrooms, and then comb through them for evidence?
• Why are jurisdictions applying laws to minor kids that were meant to protect them, not imprison them?
Advice for Parents—
The best advice for parents is to talk to their kids about what can happen if they engage in sexting. Some “talking points” might be the ones recommended by the National Campaign to Prevent Teenaged and Unplanned Pregnancy:
• Don’t engage in sexting because of peer pressure.
• Nothing digital is private anymore.
• Nothing you post on the Internet ever really goes away.
• Nothing you post on the Internet is ever really anonymous.
Some surveys found that females felt pressure from their boyfriends to participate in sexting even when they did not want to. The pressure also worked the other way: many males receive sexy pictures as a way for females to get dates from them.
Talk to your youngster about using judgment in these matters, especially since the laws are unclear, and the potential consequences could be life-changing.
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