Teen Sexting Charges Rock Cape May NJ Schools

19 boys aged 17 and under and one 18-year old teen were charged this week in South New Jersey’s Cape May County on allegations that they had been distributing nude and partially nude pictures of female, underage students via text message and social media.

The teens have been charged with invasion of privacy, which could come with a 2-year term in teen detention for the younger boys and three to five years in prison for the 18-year old.

A sexting scandal involving this many students would be newsworthy under any circumstances, but in this case at least one parent claims that the girls involved were at least partially to blame. ABC news interviewed one parent who declined to be named, after her 14-year old son had been charged. She offered the following:

“The girls know that the boys trade [the nude photos] and it’s kind of a game that the girls want to be involved in. They need to step back and really take a full look at this. The girls are just as responsible as the boys.”

While none of the females have been charged at this time, we are certainly not going to lay blame on any of the victims, but it might come as a wakeup call to some.

It’s is common knowledge that some teens are sexting. It is also common knowledge that some teen boys are likely to share sexy photos that they’ve received with their friends, particularly after a breakup.

Obviously if teens don’t engage in sexting, none of this will happen in the first place. Teens in relationships tend to make rash decisions, though.

If there were in fact girls who were submitting nudes so that they could be involved in the game, they would be well served to think long and hard about the possible consequences. If the females had been charged on child porn charges, their lives might have changed forever – a fate worse than the embarrassment of having a risqué photo out there in cyberspace.

 

 

 

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Horrific Miscarriage of Justice in Virginia Teen Sexting Case

Teen sexting is a bad idea. We get that, and remind our audience often of the potential unintended consequences. A case playing out in Virginia this week highlights a number of things that are fundamentally wrong about how child pornography laws are written, and how they apply and are being applied in the real world.

Trey Simms, a 17 year old from Virginia, was charged with two sexting-related felonies in January – manufacturing and distributing child pornography – after allegedly exchanging explicit text messages with his then girlfriend, who was 15. The police used a warrant to seize his iPhone and iPad and collect the evidence.

First things first, they are both minors, and only Simms has been charged.

Second, what the police are reported to have done, and are planning to do, is horribly wrong in our opinion, as you can see in the video below.

According to Simms’ aunt, the police took Simms into a room and told him to disrobe so that they could take pictures of his genitalia. He tried to refuse, and the police told him that if he did refuse, they would do it by force.

That alone seems wrong, but one of Simms’ lawyers told NBC Washington that investigators now want Sims to strip again and become “aroused”, so they can have pictures to compare to the ones in evidence.

This is a 17-year-old boy we’re talking about here. Other that the NBC Washington story, a Google search shows that no other news outlet has covered the story yet (but Cafémom.com is talking about it here).

If convicted, Simms could face jail time and be put on the sex offender registry, a life sentence. This is so wrong, not to mention the gross invasion of privacy of the nude photos, and the upcoming, even more invasive request.

Please join us in trying to heighten awareness of how wrong this all is.

 

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Minors Sexting and Child Pornography Charges – What is Justice?

Are child pornography charges ever appropriate in teen sexting cases? We asked Reddit, and the responses might surprise you.

redditWe wrote earlier this month about how a New Jersey teen sexting case looks like it will end up in criminal charges for young two individuals.

In the case, a West Orange boy is accused of sending nude photos of his ex-girlfriend to another girl, who then allegedly shared the pictures with friends and may have posted them online. Both of the teens, 16-years-old, have been charged with distributing child pornography and endangering the welfare of a child. The victim is 17 years old.

The case raises a number of questions, and child porn charges for teens over pictures that were acquired legitimately seem very steep. We posted a question and link to the story on the popular social networking site Reddit, to see what kind of justice the average American would like to see applied in cases such as these. To get an “average” opinion, we posted our question in the r/NewJersey subreddit, not a parenting forum. As background, since the average Reddit user is around 30 years old, many of the folks who replied probably aren’t even parents.

On the question of whether child porn charges are appropriate, some of the NO answers:

It’s a bit much. Sending a nude pic of one of their peers is not the same as child pornography. They should be punished but let’s not be ridiculous.

another

It’s ridiculous that the penalty for teen sexting is worse than the actual consequence of teen sexting.

and

They should not be charged the same as a full grown adult distributing images of child sex abuse. they should receive something APPROPRIATE for distributing images of a minor that where voluntarily taken and sent.

and

I know when I was 16 I wasn’t thinking correctly with a lot of decisions I was making. They should be charged with something but child porn? That’s life ruining, in prison you’re going to get raped and beat the f*** up.

and finally

They really want to institutionalize these kids at an early age. Whether it’s in public schools, juvy, or prison, they want these kids in the system and mindlessly obeying authority from as early an age as possible.

It’s f***ing disgusting. These are kids man. Can you remember what you were like at 16? I was a dumb-ass, immature little punk as were most kids.

On the YES, it’s appropriate side of the ledger, here’s the most popular answer:

As the images were sent without the consent of the girl — who was under 18 — then yes, they made the right call. F*** this “dumb teen” bulls**t. At 16 you fully understand that individuals have rights and privacy. This isn’t one of those times where a teenager gets in trouble for sending THEIR pictures; this is someone “leaking” picture that they had no authority to share.

and also

Agreed, I understand the penalty is harsh, but this sending pictures of your ex to get back at them has got to stop. Those pictures never go away once they are posted, these kids need to understand that.

On whether the victim, if she took the original photos or agreed to have them taken, bears any responsibility:

Why then did the original sender of her own nude photos not get arrested for child pornography? She would be just as guilty

and

I mean if they’re going to charge them, they might as well charge the girl who took the picture of herself. This really isn’t in the spirit of the law.

the third like this

If the subject of the photos took the photos and sent them in the first place, she should be charged as well.

Opinions are mixed, but most respondents are willing to assign some level of blame to the teens in this case, and some form of punishment for the accused. We’re not sure whether teen sexual activity has increased, but the ease with which provocative photos can be shared has skyrocketed. A constant dialog between teens and parents is needed to minimize the chances of your family finding itself in a similar situation.

 

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Is Criminal Prosecution Appropriate for Explicit Teen Selfies?

teen-cell-phoneAn article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution this week discusses a recent case of teen explicit photos being posted to social media, and the fact that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations is weighing criminal prosecution for the photos when it determines exactly who was involved.

According to the article:

“The postings were removed by authorities, but because the subjects are underage, anyone who posted or distributed the photos could be charged with distributing child pornography, a felony that carries a potential 20-year prison sentence.”

A 20-year prison sentence? Practically speaking, a sentence that severe is probably not in the cards, but the fact that the law offers it as a possibility, even in the case of an impulsive teen, is certainly not right.

We contacted the author in response to her questions at the end of the article about why teens are so willing to send lewd selfies. Our reply:

“These days, not much different from the old days, teens need to be at a minimum accepted by their peers, and ideally viewed as being “popular”. Given the increasing importance of smartphones and social media in teen lives, these are the platforms that teens are using to develop their personal brand and grow their popularity. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is driving them to do things that parents find horrifying and they really wouldn’t do absent the pressure to be part of the cool crowd.”

The author also asked a second question, which was in essence, “What should the repercussions be?” We answered as follows:

“As for your second question regarding punishment, I believe that if a minor sends an explicit selfie to another person, with no intent for it to be distributed anywhere beyond the recipient, that law enforcement should not be involved at all. This is an issue that needs to be brought to the attention of the parents (if it has caused a larger issue) who can deal with it as they see fit.

In the case that the recipient shares or redistributes the photos via social media or sends them to friends, this should be a violation of the law, but as you imply, the punishment should take into account the offender’s age, maturity level and the long term damage that could be done by imposing a prison sentence. A 20-year sentence for a minor should not even be an option.”

The Author, Gracie Bond Staples, published a follow up including some of our thoughts yesterday afternoon, titled “Sexting Furor Might Be Overblown” (subscription required). If you have thoughts on this issue, please feel free to leave a comment below.

 

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NJ’s Sexting Teens to Get Fair Treatment Under Megan’s Law

It looks like New Jersey will finally get around to treating teens more reasonably when it comes to Megan’s Law.

If you’re not from New Jersey or a state that has similar legislation, you may not know about Megan’s Law. Passed in 1994, the law was named after a New Jersey 7-year-old girl who was raped and murdered by a neighbor who was a twice-convicted sexual predator.

The original Megan’s Law has a noble goal; to make sure that families know when there is a dangerous convicted sexual predator living in close proximity. Those convicted of a sexual predator offense are required to submit their address of principal residence and key identifying personal details to a registry, all of which are made public.

With the advance of technology, and especially smartphone use, many in the parenting community have opposed teens convicted of sexting offences from being included in the registry. Yesterday the New Jersey Law and Public Safety Assembly committee unanimously passed a bill, earlier passed by the Senate that would allow teens to avoid registration under certain circumstances. According to an article at NorthJersey.com:

Under the legislation, teenagers who use a computer or smartphone to share nude photos of themselves with another consenting juvenile would be excluded from Megan’s Law provisions.

It isn’t clear whether the law applies to a minor sharing pictures of another minor, often referred to as revenge porn. New Jersey is already one of the only states that has a law of any kind covering revenge porn, but victim advocates will argue that such laws do not do enough to protect those harmed.

We in no way encourage or applaud minors sending sext messages, but the change to Megan’s Law as stated seems like a no-brainer to us. While we understand that in the event that lewd photos of minors become public, police are going to be involved, subjecting teens to the same sentence that is applied to adult sexual predators is grossly inappropriate.

 

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What’s Up at Quib.ly – UK Internet Porn Blocking

This week’s deep dive on a Quib.ly question.

News broke this week that UK Prime Minister David Cameron will require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to force users to opt in to have the ability to view porn on their home computers and devices. In addition, porn including rape and violence, and all child porn will be banned regardless of filter settings. These new measures are to be adopted by the end of the year.

The fine community at Quib.ly, a question and answer site focused on parenting and technology, tackled the question this week in the form of three related user posted questions:

Thoughts on Cameron’s announcement – cracking down on online pornography and ensuring an “unavoidable choice” on whether to use filters?

And

Will a default porn filter make children safer?

And

Should ISPs take more responsibility for protecting children?

 

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 8.26.03 AMOn a site such as Quib.ly, the questions can be as informative as the answers, and it bears noting that more than one person has posed the question. The answers on Quib.ly are mixed, and more or less mirror opinion I’ve seen in the mainstream press.

Parents for the most part are happy with extra protections for their kids. Anti censorship folks are wary of any actions that may be a first step in limiting freedoms.

What is our take on the pros, cons and conventional wisdom being espoused?

This is a good thing for parents. Agree. Children and teens are curious, and search engines are very powerful. It is very possible for minors to come into contact with porn or other inappropriate content accidentally, and many or most probably have. If only these instances are limited by new default filtering, it will be a positive.

The move could lull parents into a false sense of security. Bad argument. Forbes makes this argument, but we don’t give if much weight. Some defense is better than none, and a default filter should in no case lead a parent to believe that his supervision responsibilities are satisfied.

Freedoms are being limited. Disagree. Under the proposed rule, the head of household will retain the right to remove the filter. It’s a simple opt-in, or opt-out depending on your perspective.  If, in making this argument, you are defending your right to view child porn, we can’t agree with that stance.

Could be a first step in an internet freedom assault. Possible but unlikely. The heads of household are voters, and Cameron or anyone else using this as a Trojan Horse to take away freedom would find reelection almost impossible.

Not effective since people will get around it. Inconsequential. Sure, some people, and even some minors, will be able to get around the filter. CNBC has a quick piece on available workarounds here. None of this means that the default filter is a bad idea.

The proposed rules have an added benefit that we like a lot: the filters will apply to all devices in the household. Even if I am closely monitoring my kids’ devices, it is very easy for a friend to bring over his computer or phone and access content that I do not want my kids seeing. Problem solved, at least under my roof.

Child pornography and minors accessing inappropriate content are both real societal problems. Working toward some kind of solution is both noble and constructive. We see the pros strongly outweighing the cons in this measure. The best way to avoid improvement is to wait for a perfect solution.

 

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Google Takes on Online Child Abuse

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 7.28.00 AMAccording to a post from Google’s official blog yesterday, images reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC’s) hotline that depicted probable child abuse rose fourfold from 2007 to 2011. Google chose this weekend to announce that they are stepping up their efforts to combat child abuse, especially the sort that is enabled or escalated by the internet.

Google has already been hard at work on tackling the problem. According to their blog post:

Since 2008, we’ve used “hashing” technology to tag known child sexual abuse images, allowing us to identify duplicate images which may exist elsewhere. Each offending image in effect gets a unique ID that our computers can recognize without humans having to view them again. Recently, we’ve started working to incorporate encrypted “fingerprints” of child sexual abuse images into a cross-industry database. This will enable companies, law enforcement and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing these images, and to take action against the criminals.

In addition to its current and to-date efforts, Google is establishing two more programs: a $5 million dollar fund to eradicate existing online child abuse images, and a $2 million dollar fund to develop better tools to identify future cases.

Kudos to Google for making a very substantive effort in this important area. While it is almost impossible to keep child-harming content from getting on the internet in the first place, Google is making an effort to keep it from spreading, and possibly point the authorities in the direction of the offending parties.

 

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