from the more-helping,-less-hurting dept
It’s been a delayed reaction, but legislators are finally trying to do something about the horrific outcomes that result from advances in technology colliding with laws that have been on the books for decades. Smartphones are omnipresent and teens are using them just like adults use them. Sexting — the sending of explicit images to willing recipients — shouldn’t be illegal. And yet it is because some of those participating in this consensual distribution of explicit images are minors.
Operating under the belief that no one engages in sexual acts until they reach the age of consent, law enforcement has managed to turn this form of communication into a lifetime of misery for participants. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of using child porn laws to prosecute minors for sexting is the fact that actual sexual acts would be legal under the same set of laws.
Rather than allow parents to handle sexting by minors, prosecutors have stepped in to turn consenting teens into sexual predators, even if they’ve done nothing more than send images of themselves to another teen. There’s a massive logical leap that needs to be made to turn a teen photographing their own body into their own child pornographer, but cops and prosecutors have been willing to bridge that gap over reality to prematurely end these teens’ lives. Charges stemming from child porn charges — even when the teen has done nothing but “exploit” themselves — come with a lifetime of downsides, thanks to sex offender statutes.
Maryland’s legislature is trying to mitigate the damage done by existing laws — ones passed by legislators who could not have possibly foreseen teens willingly (and easily) distributing sexual images amongst themselves. The absence of any actual child pornographer isn’t something addressed by child porn laws, so the Maryland legislature has decided to make it a bit more difficult for prosecutors to convert questionable judgment calls by teens to criminal charges.
A bill that defines how to handle juveniles charged with sexting in Maryland passed in the House with a wide majority on Wednesday.
The bill, which passed on a vote of 131-8, doesn’t legalize sexting for juveniles, but it defines certain cases that aren’t a part of child pornography laws.
In addition to defining certain cases, HB0180 states that a juvenile in violation would not be committed to custody — unless there are extraordinary circumstances — and would not be subject to register as a sex offender.
It’s not great. (But it’s still pretty good.)
“Great” would be terminating any prosecutorial options for the consensual sharing of explicit images between teens. But it’s better than what’s out there now, which allows prosecutors who’ve never exercised discretion in a positive way from railroading teens into a lifetime of sex offender list misery.
What it does do is blunt the most harmful edges of existing law. Non-consensual sharing would still be a crime, but no teen can be considered a producer or possessor of child porn unless they’re over the age of 18. It also considers sexting to be a crime if the participants are more than four years apart in age, something that aligns sexting provisions with state law on consensual sexual acts between teens.
But there are still concerns. First, the bill [PDF] may have been passed but there’s no guarantee it will become law. Second, it still gives prosecutors a lot of leeway when it comes to prosecution of edge cases. But hopefully it will deter the sort of insanity that inspired this legislation.
All three House bills were drafted in response to a case in 2019 involving a teenage student who sent an illicit video of herself with a male to two of her friends, a video that was distributed by one of the friends to the rest of their high school.
Instead of helping, a school resource officer believed the teenager committed a crime, Lisae Jordan, executive director and counsel of Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, wrote in testimony to lawmakers.
The student was charged in Juvenile Court with child pornography and obscenity.
It really takes a sick mind to view someone who’s being subjected to abuse as a criminal. But that’s just how some people think. This bill, if passed, will prevent idiots like this from treating the victims of non-consensual sharing of intimate images from being treated as child pornographers. Anything that strips discretion from people who’ve proven incapable of exercising it wisely is better than doing nothing.