Friday, October 17, 2008

More on Child Pornography Laws Gone Wrong

This story has been getting a lot of press: As in so many other instances mentioned in this blog and elsewhere, a teen-aged girl takes naked pictures of herself and sends them to her friends (or whomever). Then, she gets caught and prosecutors wonder what to charge her with -- after all, she did send sexual pictures of a minor (that is, herself), which is a form of child pornography. The reason this particular case is getting a lot of attention is because in Ohio, if found guilty of distribution of child pornography, this girl could be required to register as a sex offender for at least 20 years. However, the judge has discretion as to whether this is the best punishment, given the accused's age (if she were 16, however, she would automatically be subject to adult penalties -- scary). Let's hope that, if found guilty, the judge shows some semblance of reason and does not force this girl to register just to "teach her a lesson." I think she gets the picture.

The other interesting issue coming up is how to charge the recipients of this self-created child porn. In this case, an 8th-grade boy was sent to juvenile detention on child pornography charges because a girl in his class sent him (and others) a naked picture of herself. Why this boy was targeted in particular is unclear. But, it brings up an important question: Are these children at fault if a classmate decides to send, unsolicited, an illegal photo of themselves? One day, you -- a middle school kid -- are at home/on a bus/waiting for class to start, and you check your text messages: Up pops a picture of someone you know, a classmate, naked. You are now in possession of felony material. You had no idea it was coming. What do you do?

This is a very real situation today and we need to talk to our kids about how to address the situation. Clearly, the worst thing these kids can do is forward the picture around or post it anywhere. That can only get them in more trouble. But, if we keep punishing those who do receive the pictures as well as take them, I believe we will decrease the likelihood that any of these young people will tell an adult about them. And that will drive the situation underground and may even increase the market for these pictures so that adults will get their hands on them more easily. And that, we can probably all agree, is something we don't want to happen.

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