Saturday, April 4, 2009

Those delinquent kids - "sexting" edition

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

One of my friends mentioned the phenomenon of "sexting" recently, and I thought it was a joke. No such luck - even my friend doesn't have such a dark sense of humor. Apparently we've moved on to another hysterical, overblown, teen-blaming trend. Because, you know, with every passing day, those kids get more corrupted.

"Sexting", if you're not aware, is the practice of sending naked pictures via text message - usually from teenage girls to teenage boys. How many teens are actually engaging in "sexting" is unclear, but it's caused an uproar among legal professionals, who have taken to charging the teens who are sending the pictures - and, in some cases, the educators who are trying to investigate the issue - with child pornography. Most recently, a judge charged three girls in western Pennsylvania with pornography after they sent nude pictures of themselves to three boys at their school (the boys were also charged). In October, a Texas eighth-grader spent a night in jail after his coach found a naked picture on his phone, sent to him by a classmate.

According to a survey conducted by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, about 20 percent of teens engage in "sexting". And certainly, they don't seem to be aware of the potential dangers - cell phone photos are easily downloaded or forwarded, and a picture that was intended to remain private could circulate quickly around a school. But prosecuting the kids who are sending the pictures, and sending them to jail or "re-education" programs? Surely that isn't logical. Earlier this week, a judge in the western Pennsylvania case barred the prosecutor from filing child pornography charges against the teens who had refused to participate in a "re-education" program, a decision that was welcomed by the ACLU, which was defending the teens.

"This country needs to have a discussion about whether prosecuting minors as child pornographers for merely being impulsive and naive is the appropriate way to address the serious consequences that can result from sexting," said Witold Walczack, the legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU.

This practice is definitely disturbing, just because teens' privacy is at risk. But what are we going to do, throw 20 percent of teenagers in jail? Part of the appeal of "sexting" is that it's easily hidden from parents - so isn't that part of the problem? Instead of threatening teens with legal action, let's make an effort to destigmatize conversation about sex so that teens aren't afraid to let their parents know that they are, shockingly, developing sexual identities.


At April 5, 2009 at 10:16 AM , Anonymous AC said...

Why is normalizing licentiousness always the proposed solution for vice? Is there never a case in which actual disapproval is merited?


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