Last week, more than 100 high school students at Cañon City High in Colorado were put under investigation for sharing nude pictures of themselves. When police are finished going through the hundreds of photos, it’s expected that some of the students may face felony charges and have to register as sex offenders.
This is not the first time Colorado’s done a sexting sting on high schools — last year, there was a similar sting at Legend High School in Parker, Colorado. The law clearly states “producing, taking, or sharing sexually explicit images of a minor is a felony criminal act which is punishable by jail time”, even if those images are created by the very same minor.
The concern is with the use of cloud storage by most apps, child pornographers could hack in and obtain these photos to distribute themselves. While stopping pedophiles from trading pictures is a noble goal, punishing children for exploring their sexuality is not the way to go about it, especially when 20 percent of teens have sent photos or videos of themselves to others.
By not applying child pornography laws reasonably, we’re criminalizing normal teenage behavior. Instead of focusing on the teens creating the sexual material for themselves and their fellow teens, police resources would be better spent in chasing down non-teens who are trafficking in these photos. It’s absurd to ruin someone’s life for childhood mistakes, which is all these kind of stings accomplish.
In the Denver Post, Fremont County District Attorney Tom LeDoux said “It doesn’t matter if it was consensual. There is no distinction according to Colorado state statutes. The district attorney’s office will make distinctions as we see fit.” But that’s the problem — we’ve got Romeo & Juliet laws to provide leeway for sexually active teens in age-appropriate relationships. The creation of “pornography” shouldn’t be any different.
Obviously, if any of the photos were taken under duress, that should clearly be punished. And LeDoux is doing just that — the investigation will also look at whether or not any adults were ever involved, and whether anyone was bullied or cajoled into participating. And as important as that is — and definitely, should any of the photos hit either of those criteria, then, yes, arrests are certainly warranted. But we shouldn’t lump everyone in with the true criminals. Being a teenager is a difficult time where kids are trying to learn about and navigate the adult world, and that even includes the parts of the adult world we don’t want them to know about yet. To pretend otherwise legislates a naive worldview and punishes the very same people we should be trying to protect.
(featured image via David Vespoli)