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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Should Teen "Sexting" be Criminalized?

Last winter, a 14-year old from Olympia, WA wanted to send her boyfriend a special momento.  In an exercise of judgment she would come to profoundly regret, she snapped a full-on frontal nude with her cell phone.

She then attached the pic to her boyfriend Isaiah's number and pushed send, sealing her fate.

For his part, Isaiah was coaxed by another girl he thought was good friends with his girlfriend into forwarding the pic.  Actually, the other girl was a rival for Isaiah's affections with an epic episode of cyber-bullying on her mind.
 
Annotating the pic with a disparaging comment, the rival did a global attach, publishing it to all her contacts.  From there, it went viral within hours.

Before school started the next day, parents and middle school administrators alike were scrambling with damage control.  By mid-day, local police were on the scene conducting interviews.  Isaiah was arrested at the school by the end of the day.

Isaiah, the rival, and another middle school student were charged with distributing child pornography; a felony.  The three teenage offenders spent at least one night in the local juvenile detention center and were brought before a magistrate in standard blue jumpsuits.

The community was pitched into an uproar.  Some parents wanted the accused teens tried as adults; others wanted the subject of the photo charged along with the publishers.

In the end, the prosecuting attorney moderated the charges, offering a misdemeanor reduction equivalent to our "disorderly conduct", with the opportunity to earn a dismissal in exchange for some very targeted community service.

As a component of their probation, the teen misdemeanants were required to create a public service  campaign about the hazards of sexting.  The prosecutor fashioned a sentence that would both capitalize on the aftershock of the incident as well as educate the public about what was acceptable conduct for their children.

Looks like "mission accomplished".

But you would be fooling yourself to think that our culture's sexual saturation is going to change anytime soon. Our children are bombarded with images on a 24/7 basis.  Remember Motorola's Super Bowl ad of Megan Fox snapping a pic of herself in a bubble bath.  Wonder who she sent that pic to...?

We here in the Detroit area are well familiar with sexting hazards; it basically brought down the hip-hop Mayor after all. [Well, technically a perjury conviction accomplished that; but still, just sayin....]

So think twice before you push send folks.  This bit of digital common sense applies to any manner of content you are about to publish.

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