Age and The Line Between Teen Sexting and Child Porn

If you’ve been paying attention to the news about the current state of teen sexting over the last couple of years, you might have drawn a few conclusions:

  • With almost every teen having a smartphone, the number of teens that appear to be sexting has gone through the roof
  • When sexting images get handed off to friends in a school setting, the odds of being found out go up dramatically
  • When the original sexting occurred between two consenting teens, prosecutors tend to opt for a slap in the wrist, even when the possession and transmission of images constitutes child porn by the strict definition

teen-cell-phoneThe conclusion of a recent Denver Post article on the subject can be summarized here:

“[We have witnessed a] predictable shift in U.S. policy about sexual images of youth: We are not interested in prosecuting sexting teenagers in criminal courts, and we’ve separated this stuff from what we call child pornography.”

We agree. It is impossible given the technological change that has taken place that when child pornography laws were written, they contemplated two teens in a romantic relationship voluntarily sharing intimate images.

The article goes on to speculate on a very interesting point: What happens to a teen once he is no longer a minor, and there are pictures of underage minors on his devices, apps or social accounts (or hers)? If a 17-year old and a 15-year old share pictures, it might not be a big deal legally. If an 18-year old continues to possess those pictures of a 15-year old, will authorities look the other way?

It’s worth thinking about. When your teen turns 18, will he voluntarily delete the old images that now might get him in trouble? Will you have the fortitude to have a frank talk about what images or videos might be in his or her possession? As uncomfortable as that conversation might be, we think it’s one worth having. The prospect of possession of those old photos and video being treated more harshly if found is a scary one.

Of course, the odds that your teen’s phone or social media accounts will be scrutinized by law enforcement decreases with age at some point. It appears to us that most teen sexting cases are outed by those images causing a disturbance in middle or high school.

We’re not saying that we think teen sexting is okay; it’s very risky and should be avoided. We just think that parents should keep in mind that as their teens become adults, their media inventory might pose a bigger risk.

 

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