Sexting and Punishment...
Every parent's worst nightmare these days involves pictures of their teenage daughters and the internet. While there exists a substantial number of laws designed to protect them, more and more frequently, the problem is the teenagers posting that material online themselves. They are, after all, teenagers.
This act of teens taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to friends via cellphones is called "sexting". The question every parent wants answered is how to prevent it, and the question for judges and law enforcement officials is, increasingly, what is the appropriate punishment?
As this Wall Street Journal article describes, a recent case in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania has brought sexting to the legal forefront. Cellphones with numerous images of naked or "scantily-clad" teenage girls were confiscated at the local high school. The judge had to make a decision between sending them to an "education program" or else have the teens face felony charges of child pornography.
Some legal scholars are arguing that pornography law is designed to protect children from adults, and that a felony conviction is too harsh a measure for protecting children from other children. Others are claiming that if charges are made, they should be limited to kids who actually distribute the photos.
The reason this is a complicated issue is that, of course, on the one hand, the distribution of child pornography, and any other online activities that put children in danger, absolutely cannot be tolerated. That principle is clear as day for any reasonably-minded person. However, on the other hand, when a 17-year-old girl sends her boyfriend a picture of herself dressed in a bathing suit, as actually happened in this case, then does she honestly deserve a felony conviction and to be branded as a sex offender for the rest of her life?
It would be more than fair to suggest that such teenagers need to use a little common sense. Then again, they are teenagers, after all, which by definition means that they can't be counted on to consistently refrain from being idiots. So what's to be done?
Ultimately, the punishment should fit the crime. Judges should be able to use their discretion in each individual case (within certain reasonable limits) in issuing punishments that are proportional to the levity of the crime committed. This should not, in any way, be construed as "soft" on child pornography. Protecting kids is unquestionably the highest priority here. Outraged parents may need to come to grips with the fact that, in sexting cases, it's often their own kids who would be targeted as felons by laws which were actually designed to protect them.