Legal Issues

by Carlo Longino

Filed Under:
porn, sexting

When Does It Stop Being 'Sexting' And Start Being Something More Serious?

from the gray-areas dept

The debate about "sexting" rages on, both here at Techdirt and elsewhere. One of the major points of contention has been that child-pornography laws don't make any distinction about who creates child porn, meaning that kids who take nude photos of themselves and send them out can be viewed in the same way -- in the eyes of the law -- as child pornographers who abuse and exploit children for commercial gain or personal titillation. The catch is that "the eyes of the law" are really the eyes of human prosecutors, who hopefully should realize that charging kids with child-porn offenses is an overreaction. CNN's got a story touching on this issue, but they didn't find a particularly good example: instead of talking about kids who took pictures of themselves, they lead with the story of an 18-year-old guy who sent out a nude picture of his 16-year-old girlfriend to "dozens" of friends and family after they'd had a fight. The guy was subsequently prosecuted under child-porn laws and has had to register as a sex offender. While it's clear the guy wasn't a commercial porn producer, it's also clear that he went a lot further than teens who take photos of themselves, send them out, and then find themselves in hot water. His actions, while caused by a moment of stupidity, were intended to hurt his girlfriend -- much different than teens taking and sending photos of themselves as an expression of their sexuality. To compare the two seems pretty disingenuous, and it's hard to imagine the guy will attract a whole lot of sympathy, but the story does illustrate the very black-and-white world of child porn laws, and how they can be applied with little distinction (or perhaps common sense) by some prosecutors.

Meanwhile, over at the WSJ, the "Numbers Guy", Carl Bialik, has taken a look at the survey that has been widely cited in sexting stories, claiming that 20 percent of teens have taken and sent nude photos of themselves. Bialik points out that the survey was conducted online, calling into question just how representative of the wider teen population the sample was. To ask teens about their online behavior, but only ask teens who are online, seems suspect. But hey, the stat sells the story, right?

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2009 @ 6:39am


    I suppose trollificus really is trolling or is just fairly naive. I don't know what world you live in, but puberty can start as early as age 9 (for girls, they get a head start). Usually, its at age 13/14 and doesn't stop until the early twenties.

    The point to bringing this up is just to show that using biology to determine who is an adult just doesn't work. People are usually considered "adults" in a legal sense at age 18, 2-4 years before they are biologically an adult.

    So that leaves us with either traditions that are based on instinct or trying to determine what age most people become mentally mature enough to handle adult responsibilities.

    The latter is probably the "best" way to do it, but it has its own problems due to the ambiguity of mental maturity. Some arrive there quite early, others quite late, and some never fully do. A handful at 15, and most at 16-17 years is when humans start becoming emotionally mature enough to handle sex, or at least honestly desire to have it.

    Which brings me to the first option I mentioned, tradition based on instinct. Historically, people were getting *married* at age 14-16. And not all THAT long ago in the grand scheme of things. The life expectancy was much shorter, and for some reason when that extended the length of time for children to be "children" was extended as well.

    Instinctively, we males are sometimes attracted to females that are young and attractive. This should not be news to anyone. While I personally find it a little creepy in most cases, I don't see anything completely horrendous with a 16 year old expressing his/her sexuality. But then I have no illusions, I know that experimentation starts at 14/15.

    Personally, I think there is no way we can arrive at a perfect solution. I think that the "age of consent" (which is between 15 and 18 in the US, most states have it at 16) is when the cut off for "child pornography" should be made. If they're allowed to have sex, they're allowed to take photos of themselves doing it.

    Don't like it? Well laws are made to be changed as society deems it so put it to a vote. But making someone a sex offender because they are a Jr or Sr in **High Scool** and had sex with their boy/girl friend is just fucking stupid and a grave injustice.

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