Among young people, text messages like these are a common enough occurrence to warrant concern from parents, teachers, pastors, politicians, and well-meaning, but laughably bad, public service announcements.
Welcome to the wonderful world of “sexting” — just another thing parents who “just don’t understand” are allowed to do, while teenagers have to wait until they are old enough to be kicked out of the house for sexting the boyfriend their parents don’t like.
While sexting — or sending someone sexually-explicit messages or photographs via cell phone — is neither morally good nor bad on its own, there are many people who believe the practice to carry significant social detriment, up to the point where “sexting” is considered a criminal act with serious consequences.
In most states, teenagers who are within two-to-three years in age can have consensual sex without much fear of legal retribution (the so-called “Romeo and Juliet laws”), but in a lot of those states, what has become a more-common-than-not teenage sexual ritual has been put in the same legal arena as child pornography, based primarily on decades-old laws meant to apply to adults who exploited minors. In essence, sexually-suggestive material of teenagers produced and held by teenagers thinking with their genitalia is no different than sexually-suggestive material of teenagers found on the hard drive of that weird guy who lives by himself in that unsettling house at the end of the block. In a lot of jurisdictions, even consensual sexting between teens who fall within the age differential for “Romeo and Juliet laws” are arrested, tried, and convicted for producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography. Many go to jail, while more have to then register as sex offenders.
Even though most prosecutors won’t touch consensual sexting with a 10-foot pole — similarly to how most prosecutors won’t touch consensual sex between minors within 2-to-3 years of age with a 10-foot pole — some actually do, and the consequences can be devastating. The Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire estimates that 7 percent of those arrested for child pornography in 2009 were minors who had either sent or received a dick pic, tit pic, or slit pic with full consent.
For context, a total of 4,901 child pornography-related arrests were made in 2009 and 7 percent of that number is 343. For additional context, in 2000, there were a total of 1,713 arrests for child pornography (of which 3 percent were minors) and in 2006, there were 3,672 arrests (of which 5 percent were minors). This means about 50 minors were arrested for child pornography-related crimes in 2000 and 184 were arrested in 2006. From 2000 to 2009, the rate of minors being arrested on child pornography-related charges increased 586 percent, compared to just a 186.11 percent increase in the overall rate.
Many U.S. states at least have some understanding that kids will be kids and send dirty pictures to each other. After all, it’s not like this is anything new. In my teenage years, dudes and bettys exchanged suggestive material with iZone sticky film and MMS messages sent from a Motorola Razr. My parents and grandparents’ generation exchanged Polaroids (even though you weren’t supposed to shake them… Outkast…). Their parents and grandparents’ generation exchanged tintypes… I guess… when the camera didn’t blow up and immolate the (un-)lucky photographer who got to see the goods.
These states have tried to amend existing statutory rape and child pornography laws as a means to keep sexually-charged teens free of the brand of societal retribution given to Jared Fogle, but there are still instances when teenagers engage in hormone-drenched consensual pornography only to be socially-branded in a similar manner to that of former Lostprophets vocalist Ian Watkins. Considering that most (not all, but most) teenagers who engage in sexting aren’t doing so maliciously, does it make sense to criminally equate their exploration of sexuality (at the age in which biology demands they do so) to a guy busted for child sex tourism or to a guy who fucked a baby?
[H/T New York Times]