In most states, teenagers younger than 18 can be punished with serious consequences, including being charged with felony production of child pornography and having to register as a sex offender, for “sexting” to other teenagers. Sexting is identified as sending risque messages or photos of themselves via computer or cell phone. According to The New York Times article “Rethinking Sex Offender Laws for Youth Texting,” lawyers and legislators in various states are now trying to lessen the punishment for teenagers guilty of sexting, and I agree with them 100 percent.
Teenagers who distribute sexual photos of themselves shouldn’t have to face the same punishment as older individuals, like 45-year-old child predators. Giving the same punishment to these two groups doesn’t seem fair because teenagers may think sexting is a normal form of communication whereas adults know that using child pornography is wrong.
With the shows on TV, the music on the radio and the young party scene that pervades high schools, it is no wonder why teenagers and even pre-teens are engaging in more sexual activity. Amy Adler, a law professor at New York University, said in The New York Times article, “We’re at this cultural shift, not only because of the technology, but because of what’s happening in terms of the representation of teen sexuality as you can see on ‘Gossip Girl.'”
With that said, how can you punish teenagers for imitating what they see around them and blaming them for doing something that they think is socially acceptable because of peer influences?
The child pornography laws that are haunting American teenagers weren’t made to punish 15-year-olds who send pictures of themselves to 18-year-olds. They were made to help protect young children who fall victim to child pornography or pedophiles.
“The child pornography law was about protecting children from pedophiles,” Adler said in the article. “While sexting is bad judgment, it’s simply not what the Supreme Court had in mind when it crafted the child pornography law.”
It doesn’t make sense to punish an 18-year-old male for sending a nude picture of himself to his girlfriend and then being registered as a sex offender for decades. This really hurts the future of that man. When he tries to get a job, he will have to say that he is a sex offender. When he tries to buy a house, he will have to announce that he is a registered sex offender because of certain sex offender laws involving proximity to schools, daycares, etc. This just isn’t right considering all he did was send a picture of himself to his girlfriend when he was younger.
While I don’t think sexting is a good idea, I do think that what the teenagers are being pressured to do and what they are seeing around them will really affect their actions. There is no reason to punish them so severely for that.
The bottom line is that the laws for sexting and sending naked photos are the same for all people. Hopefully this will change and people will start realizing that each case is different and has different circumstances.
The article revealed that some states are in the process of making underage sexting a misdemeanor. This is a step in the right direction to helping teens learn how sexting can hurt them in the future.
Courtney Baker is a sophomore strategic communication from Fort Worth.