Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Balko: Don’t treat teen sexting as a crime

First Published Jul 13 2014 10:19 pm • Last Updated Jul 13 2014 10:19 pm

The Washington Post’s reports last week about the efforts of officials in Manassas, Virginia to forcibly induce an erection in a teenager to pursue "sexting" charges against him deservedly provoked national outrage. Manassas police have since backed down and now say that they won’t execute the search warrant. But the Commonwealth of Virginia was prepared to create child pornography so that it could prosecute a 17-year-old for sending videos of himself to his then-girlfriend, who was 15.

The very notion that the state would need to sexually exploit a minor in order to protect minors from sexual exploitation serves as a tidy microcosm of the "sexting" debate in general: Too many schools, police, judges and prosecutors have concluded that we must destroy these kids in order to save them.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The best example of the absurdity of this approach is a 2007 case in Florida, in which a 16-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy were convicted of "directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child" and possession of child pornography for emailing explicit photos to one another. The two hadn’t broken the law by having sex, only by creating, sending and possessing photos of their sex. The state of Florida thought it had to protect these two minors from the theoretical damage to their lives or careers that might have been done, had the photos been released, by turning them into convicted child pornographers.

The argument in favor of prosecuting sexting is that the photos could wind up in the hands of a sexual predator. Perhaps that has happened but, having followed this issue for years, I can’t recall one such incident, much less a trend. I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s a good idea for minors to send explicit photos of themselves to one another. But there’s simply no evidence that the harm they’re imposing upon themselves by doing so justifies treating them as criminals.

Sex isn’t the only context in which we’re ruining kids under the pretense of saving them. We’re protecting kids from drugs by arresting and jailing them for marijuana possession. We’re protecting them from the (mostly nonexistent) problem of school violence by assigning law enforcement to patrol middle and high schools — so kids who were once reprimanded, assigned detention or possibly suspended for fighting, throwing food or truancy are now fed into the criminal justice system.

We have an increasing tendency to use the criminal justice system to "fix" the sorts of problems once addressed by families, schools, religious organizations and other civic institutions.

Perhaps the best thing we can do to help kids right now is to stop the people who are trying to save them.

- - -

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post.




Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.