Virginia Prosecutor Educates Sexting Teens Rather Than Prosecuting Them

from the good-guys dept

When a moral panic really gets rolling, it often seems like there isn’t enough inertia in the world to slow it down. It sure seemed that way to me when it came to “sexting”, the term for people, often young folks who don’t fully appreciate the consequences, sending around naked pictures of themselves or their friends. I think there might be a great many older folks who forget what it was like to be a kid and then couple that with a general fear of digital technologies and suddenly the sky is falling. That’s how you end up with prosecutors who look to charge young people who engage in sexting under child pornography laws, despite the inherent ridiculousness of that situation.

Fortunately, there are indeed some smart people in government, such as Louisa County prosecutor Rusty McGuire of Virginia, who has decided against charging young people for sexting and instead do a bit of education.

According to reports from the Central Virginian and the Associated Press, an investigation by the county sheriff’s office uncovered more than 1,000 nude or sexually suggestive photos posted to Instagram accounts and shared between more than 100 teenagers in Louisa and surrounding counties. But unlike other teen sexting rings that have made national news—where sexters have been brought up on felony pornography charges or disciplined by their schools—Louisa has opted to respond to the scandalous headlines with a refreshing dose of common sense. Major Donald Lowe told the AP that although the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office is still scouring student cellphones for signs of nonconsensual sexual activity, which could result in criminal charges, most students involved won’t be prosecuted. “We said from the beginning that we’re not going to label everyone who participated in this a sex offender,” he said. “There’s no reason to destroy people’s lives and careers over this.”

Now, for those of you already getting your ire up for a rebuttal, the question should always be, “How is justice best served?” I would think the answer to that question should generally be to stop illicit or unwanted behavior while making sure everyone involved is impacted as beneficially as possible. That isn’t done by prosecuting children who simply aren’t capable of a full understanding of the consequences of their actions. Educating them on the law and the consequences, on the other hand, seems to do the job nicely. With that in mind, McGuire is actively engaging students on their turf.

Louisa schools are expanding programs to teach teenagers “the dangers of social media and how to make smart choices” and are launching a program for parents to help discuss the issue with their kids. McGuire “talks about the importance of not doing any [sexting] activities,” Straley told me. “If you put it out there, it doesn’t go away. Teenagers need to know that and understand that when they put it out there, they’re more or less saying that they’re OK with the world seeing this.”

This is called hitting the nail on the head. Instead of throwing the legal book at someone, you educate everyone. Share some stories about how these kinds of actions have had negative impacts, get parents involved on the issue, and meet kids on a level playing field where you openly and honestly discuss why this might not be such a good idea. Kids are kids and teenagers are going to be interested in sex, no matter what you do. But kids are also generally smarter than I think most of us adults give them credit for and they can grasp the true impact of these actions if someone takes the time to lay it out for them.

Meanwhile, no children are suddenly living with a sexual predator label for the rest of their lives. That’s the best solution all around.

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Comments on “Virginia Prosecutor Educates Sexting Teens Rather Than Prosecuting Them”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That One Guy:

Exactly correct. Many teenagers seem to think that this stuff stays where it is sent. As we all know, the reality is that it can go anywhere, including to your parents, future employers, future spouses, etc. Kids and teenagers need to understand that. It is not repression and anti-sex because, let’s face it, teenagers have always had sex and likely always will. Is it better to stick your head in the sand and pretend it does not exist, or give them information to help make informed decisions?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“… give them information to help make informed decisions”

To “help them make informed decisions” implies they have the right to decide in the first place, but that’s not the case. They’re being told about the possible consequences in the form of a reprimand. That’s the opposite of empowerment.

CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’ve never seen what kind of empowerment goes with the freedom to choose whether you want to spread around nude pictures of yourself anyway. Heck, one girl I specifically told not to do that no matter how much she liked me. There are much more substantial forms of empowerment, like learning to drive or fly or sail, making sculptures, hosting MST3k movie nights and LAN parties, joining the navy, caring for pets, etc. Sexuality just seems so… shallow in comparison, and modern society’s overbearing emphasis on it is enough to make one celibate for life.

silverscarcat (profile) says:

Re: Re:

More like they’re trying to keep this from happening if they did what normally happened…

Future Employer: Huh, you’re a sex offender?
Current Teen: It wasn’t my fault! I…
Future Employer: Says here that you were charged with having child pornography.
Current Teen: I was fifteen! It was pictures of myself and my friends and…
Future Employer: We have no room in this establishment for disgusting deviants such as yourself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Finally!

It should also be required learning for legislators: we shouldn’t need to rely on the common sense of police and prosecutors except for edge cases in new laws. Otherwise, we create opportunities for corruption, and the danger that a less sensible DA will decide to throw the book at someone for some petty and generally-ignored offence, which is a punishment in itself even if the charges get thrown out or lead a purely token penalty from a sane court.

The current system of discretionary prosecution, coupled with a generally-growing level of surveillance, puts us all in danger.

(Relatedly, any legislator who says “This bill will never be used for X” should then submit an amendment to prohibit the use of the bill for X.)

G Thompson (profile) says:

Why would ‘sexually suggestive photos’ be a part of there education strategy? Or does that mean that ‘sexually suggestive photos’ are actually classified as Indecent Images (CP) everywhere else in the USA??

*shakes head in wonder*

Though it’s good to see a US authority actually talking about sex and sexting and doing what the rest of the Western countries have been doing for the last 10yrs in regards to ‘sexting’. Education, personal responsibility, and understanding that ‘nakedness’ is NOT illegal per se nor are ‘sexually suggestive photos’ (look at any marketing campaign for any product) is the real message that needs to be sent.

Also teaching kids basics of sex education re Contraceptives, STI’s, LGBT, Ethics (leave morals out of the equation) & social dynamics is what should really be MANDATORY in all US schools. Again like the rest of the world does.

Groaker (profile) says:

This is nothing new. The difference is in the breadth of the display, which can now be world wide. I remember pictures of girlfriends being passed around in the early ’60s. Take with polaroid, or self processed.

It was stupid then, and is even more stupid now. But stupid is not a crime. If it were, there would be many DAs, judges and elected officials interned in prisons for life.

Anonymous Coward says:

“When a moral panic really gets rolling, it often seems like there isn’t enough inertia in the world to slow it down.”

Not trying to be pedantic, but inertia is the tendency of an object at rest to stay at rest and an object in motion to stay in motion. Perhaps the first sentence should read: ‘…there isn’t enough friction in the world to slow it down.’

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