March 27, 2009

She was only sexting

starlet.jpg It's been five years since I first recoiled in sarcasm at a case of a teenage girl arrested on child abuse and kiddie porn charges for taking a nude photo of herself. It was so preposterous on its face that I didn't even feel the need to say very much about it, but since then similar cases have proliferated in tandem with the technology for sharing digital pictures. Here's today's story out of New Jersey and a good article from yesterday's New York Times about a brave Pennsylvania girl who's fighting back.

It's obvious to Violet Blue what's going on here:

These kids aren't being sexually exploited; their sexuality is being criminalized. The people enforcing and deciding how to apply adult sexual laws to kids (across the nation, it seems) are like totally not paying attention that what kids have always done, is what they're doing now. It's like they've become so entrenched in ideology that intellectual honesty has been thrown out the window; baby, bathwater and all. They've forgotten about the kids they're trying to "protect." And that's losing far more than an argument about teens taking nudie pics of themselves, posting them online, or sending them to each other.

Generously searching for the most reasonable explanation for these prosecutions, Feministing can only come up with Ben Tre logic. It's necessary to destroy girls in order to save them.

Some folks are so determined to impose social control on young women's expression of sexuality that they are willing to turn a few girls into convicted sex offenders in order to terrify teenage girls everywhere into toeing their prescribed line. Responses to women's, and especially young women's, expressions of sexuality have always been hysterical (pardon the ironic use), and colored by both panicked reaction and drooling exploitation.

Down with panicked reaction and drooling exploitation!

Now let's see, what can I find on Google Images to go with a post about naked teens under arrest?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Sure, it's easy to mock the over-the-top reaction, but then let's hear where you propose to draw the line, smartypants.

I want to applaud the rebellious spirit of a teenage girl posting nude pictures of herself where I can link to them, so I send her Paypal money for doing so and encourage her to do more if she wants to keep the money coming. I funnel traffic to her pix and provide her with a cut of my profits. Soon she is, with my help, making serious money off of this rebellious spirit.

She's taking the pictures and is free to decide not to take/post them. After all, she's 13 and can make fully rational decisions about whether or not she's exploiting herself, so no moral line is being crossed here, right?

And in your scenario she's the one who gets arrested and put on the sex offender registry?

Seriously, that's the best you can do, Hitler?

Didn't I preface this with an acknowledgement of "over the top" in this case? My point is that it's easy to point a finger at the wrong way to address a problematic situation but harder to then suggest a working framework for addressing it, unless you're saying there's no need to do so at all.

But your use of the phrase "draw the line" implies that the prosecutorial continuum is at least the correct one. It's not. What's happening here is clearly not a proto form of sex crimes (despite your absurd hypothetical extension) and there's no reason for the law to be involved at all. Saying "but something needs to be done" can't be a justification for doing something that clearly makes matters worse.

As every article I linked suggests, the solutions here are therapy/parental/peer intervention for individual young people who are clearly troubled, education to help prevent non-troubled young people from making poor choices, and an adult community mature enough to know the difference.

Plus a less draconian and inflexible legal system in general.

> implies that the prosecutorial continuum is at least the correct one

Not an implication but an inference. My point, rather, was that a moral line was crossed that mandated a response. The law is our society's standard response; if rejecting that I was asking you to submit your own, which I guess, grudgingly, you have.

> your absurd hypothetical extension

"absurd" = "won't happen"? Let's check back on that in a year.

Not grudgingly, just thought it was obvious. Especially if you clicked through.

On a related note, ever since my Spy days I get petulant when people say it's easy to point fingers/criticize/tear down... In fact it's actually quite difficult, at least if you want to do it well.

Fair enough on the "easy" thing. But I reject the notion that it's up to your readers to read through multiple links by others in order to intuit your stance.

OK, let me pull back the "by others" part in view of your own link at the beginning, the one I hadn't bothered clicking because I had read it back in the day (but did not remember the disclaimer you had in it).

BTW, your "today's story" link is an unresolved Facebook URL, and will only resolve for people already logged in to same. I know, I know, who isn't?

well said Vance

I just can't believe no one called me out on the terrible pun.

go to www.familywatchdog.us and type in your address. Zoom in on the map for a more accurate radius. When you click one of the squares you'll get the sexual offender's address, photo, conviction history and age of victim(s). It's like the myspace of perverts.

Perverts who actually have a myspace do the same thing by browsing profiles by age, gender, and location within 5 miles. This 14 year old girl is posting procative photos of herself when she probably grew her 1st pube earlier this year. I say set her up on a date with one of the sex offender darlings and see where life takes them. And put their rendezvous on tv. Preferably Fox.

"I just can't believe no one called me out on the terrible pun."

You son-of-a-bitch.

Great stock photo.

I would've gone with "Sexting, going on seventeen."

What if I give a naked teenager a machine gun and send her to Mexico to get me a Pepsi. Where do we draw the line then?


Whatnow? If a school finds out a young woman or man is sending sexually explicit photos to another young woman or man...well, they should inform the parents. When has this not been true? The moral line that has been crossed is not a new one -- it is the same one you crossed if you ever had sex with an underage teenager when you were an underage teenager. In fact, I'll go so far as to say underage teenagers have been doing the sex since at least the late 1940's. Since when has the right response to this behavior been criminal prosecution? (Yeah, sure, when the skin colors don't match. But setting aside the snark...)

The whole point is not that a 13 year old girl should possess complete autonomy -- it is that a 13 year old girl who is making mistakes along the way to understanding her sexuality should not be treated as a criminal and threatened with prison time and a forced to register as a sex offender (one byproduct of which would be dropping out of school, since she'd be forced to stay away from her peers children).

Sorry to use so many html tags. Got a little overexcited there.

Is that Cindy Brady?

lizzer, you're making a point that has already long been acknowledged. I'm not saying a girl should be registered as a sex offender for the transgression. What I'm saying is that just because that response is absurd doesn't mean we reject any prosecutorial solution out of hand for any party involved.

You are wrong that the transgression is equivalent to two consenting teens having sex with each other. The key line that has been crossed in this case that isn't in that one is taking sexuality from the private (teenagers') sphere out into a public forum in the adult world, a realm of potential commercial complexities, and, not incidentally, into perpetuity. It's an entirely different kind of transgression that I don't think our society has yet come up with a satisfactory response to.

I've always liked how the New Jersey age of consent worked: anyone can have sex with a 16 year-old, and you can have sex with a 13-15 year-old if you're less than four years older. Not that I tested these laws out, growing up there....


So then your concern isn't teens having sex but the ease with which teens having sex can now photograph themselves having sex? And you're concerned about the possibility of those photographs falling into the hands of perverted adults? It seems to me we already have child pornography laws for going after perverted adults, so I still don't see what new line has been crossed.

What this story demonstrates is that the simple possession of pictures may now be an insufficient indicator of adult perversion, since any parent who confiscates a child's phone runs the risk of having child pornography in their possession. This would seem to call for more prosecutorial discretion, not more prosecutorial zeal.

Or are you suggesting a prosecutorial threat be used to make kids act responsibly? Because that's surely not going to happen.


What do you think of these photos? Is the Sun-Sentinel asking for a prosecution?

@lizzer More like a Pulitzer!!!

Hot, thanks! Let me know if you find any more.

Post a comment

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2