Monday, February 23, 2009

Placing "sexting" in context

Salon puts a contemplative spin on the issue of "sexting" (the act of sending X-rated pictures electronically). It opens with the media-typical shock stories of young persons sending naked pictures of each other and then getting charged with child pornography. But, after the attention-getting scheme, it spends time deconstructing the issue more critically, posing some of the most difficult questions we need to consider:

1. Should people under 18 be charged with child pornography if they are willingly sending a picture of themselves to someone else who is happy to receive it? Does it matter if both parties are under 18 (or the legal age of consent in their state of residence), or should the age difference between the two be taken into consideration as in statutory rape?

2. Do the laws related to child pornography need to change given that the initial taking of the picture was likely not, in and of itself, a traumatic event? At this point, much of the argument against child pornography is that the experience of it being created is a traumatic event. This doesn't seem to be the case in these situations...As Amy Adler, a law professor at New York University, states"Child porn law was founded on a very different vision of what the major threat was."

3. Should someone under 18 be charged with possession of child pornography if they didn't know they were going to get the picture of their naked classmate? This is a very likely scenario and, in my opinion, those who unknowingly find themselves in possession of illegal material are not likely to tell an adult about it if they fear being charged.

4. Is sexting creating a whole new way of sexual expression, or are teens simply repeating old ways of sexual expression, but immortalizing it using the technology? The author of the Salon article reminisces about standing in front of the mirror and mimicking "porn poses." The big difference now, of course, is that the mirror is now a camera. And the implications are much bigger. But is the activity itself that different? Hard to say.

5. How much is our "porned culture" to blame? Should there be more media restrictions on Girls Gone Wild commercials, for example, or should free speech dominate as it has in the past?

These questions are critical to examine if we are going to progress on this issue. And including teens in on the conversations will help researchers, policy makers, and parents best understand how to handle this issue.

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