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Jan. 30 2010 - 10:32 am | 1,165 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Sexting as kiddie porn: The absurdity of making victims perps, and perps victims

Children look through a door to observe an on-...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

When new technologies become widely adopted facts of life, like camera-enabled cell-phones, problems come from the wetware; the tools are blameless but people act irrationally and hurtfully. Consider sexting–taking and sending nude sexually explicit cell-phone pics–and an Indiana prosecutor so freaked out by networked adolescent sexuality that it caused him to respond in a logically incoherent manner, i.e., act like an idiot:

“I think there has always been a sort of, you show me yours and I’ll show you mine, and a curiosity there,” Porter County, Ind., Prosecutor Brian Gensel said. “The problem now is the stakes are so much higher because if a juvenile sends a picture of themselves to someone else, well, that can be disseminated now to the entire world within minutes.”

And that’s distribution of child pornography, Gensel said.

Last week, two middle school students in Valparaiso, Ind., were caught sending nude pictures of themselves to each other on their cell phones. The students were caught when the 13-year-old girl’s cell phone rang in class, and her teacher confiscated it, according to a police report. The girl cried that she would get in trouble because a 12-year-old boy sent her a “dirty picture.”

The boy sent the girl a picture of his genitals and requested that she do the same, the report said. The girl then texted him a picture of her naked, police said.

The students have been charged with child exploitation and possession of child pornography, both felonies. They were referred to the county’s juvenile probation department, which will determine whether authorities pursue or drop the charges, Gensel said. If convicted, the students could be required to register as sex offenders, he said.

via Sexting: Two middle school students charged with felonies – chicagotribune.com.

Felonies? Listed in sex offender registries?

You should I know I’m on the prudish (puritanical?) side of things when it comes to laws against child pornography. Maybe because of the work I do. I’m not sure, but when you’ve treated people in therapy who were sexually exploited as children you tend to end up either a bit jaded or with an almost visceral response to protect the victim in situations of sexual exploitation. Sometimes both.

But here? I just want to protect these kids from the prosecutor. Other than idiotic I don’t have a word for trying to ruin the lives of these two children just because they acted like children, other than maybe evil or criminal. In fact, the sexually exploiting actor here seems to be those who automatically put sexting into the criminal justice system.

Gensel’s response is psychologically  and logically incoherent. On one hand the prosecution says that there is a 13 year old girl and a 12 year old boy who need protection from the pornographic exploitation of sexting. They are victims of a criminal act because they and their cohort are too underdeveloped neurologically, emotionally, socially, and sexually to handle responsibly sexual decisions with long-term consequence. They need our protection, they are not fully responsible actors.

But as potential perps, well, that is a different story. The same two children are now fully responsible child pornographers who may end up with a life-defining requirement to register as sex offenders. When viewed as victims they are not fully responsible and capable of making decisions, but they are when viewed as criminals.

There is no crime here or in countless other similar situations, unless you share my sense that those prosecuting tech-enabled adolescent sexual curiosity may be crossing a still ill-defined line. But there is a huge educational issue, a need for “sexting education” more sophisticated than “‘just say no’ or you’ll be arrested for child pornography.”

Teens these days have to learn the ins-and-outs of two incredibly powerful interacting systems: their sexual bodies and their technological tools. Today’s adults have no first-hand experience contending with the challenges–and opportunities–today’s 13 year olds confront daily.  We need to acknowledge the reality of our ignorance and confront it rather than criminalizing hormone-poisoned youth who are on the front lines of our shared ignorance.

[Thanks to Jack Drescher for telling me about this case]


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  1. collapse expand

    It would be difficult for me to agree with you more on this issue, and I think this is a very troubling sign of things to come. Instead of rationally engaging new technology and logically adjusting to the new sorts of tension it brings, there’s a vocal element in our society that always wants to shoot first. They are dangerous — I’d argue more dangerous than the harms they claim to be fighting against.

  2. collapse expand

    People used to get married at 12 & 13 Christens & Moslems have problems with sex, what people do of their own free will is not anyones else’s business. & kids are sexual beings they need to learn at their own pace! The Damn religious nuts need to stop forcing their ideas on the rest of us, what they are doing is worst then rape!

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