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.