The news headlines have been brimming lately with reports of the police getting involved after evidence surfaces that teens have been sexting. Such evidence often shows up at schools, and since school officials are very wary of dealing with possible crimes (child pornography), it’s a pretty straightforward response to refer the incident and students on to the local police.
Our position on teen sexting cases has been consistent (for cases where the sexting is consensual and minors are of the age of consent):
- Teen sexting is a bad idea. We say this not on moral grounds – we leave that up to parents – but rather because the range of outcomes for all participants is almost exclusively negative
- Child pornography laws as written are dreadfully behind the times. They weren’t crafted at a time when consensual teen sexting was “a thing”
- Teens who voluntarily take and send a sext to a partner should not be prosecuted under such laws
- Parents, not police or schools, should deal with consensual teen sexting issues
Thankfully, of late the courts have pursued few if any such cases to the full extent of the law. That may change, but for the most part, courts and police have used good judgment and stopped short of throwing the book at teens who are caught sexting.
An incident in Mauldin South Carolina this month, related to sexting but certainly not the same, has resulted in two Mauldin High School seniors being suspended from school and football, and facing criminal charges, after one of them allegedly took a picture of another player’s nude butt and sent it via Snapchat. The recipient then allegedly sent the picture to a number of people via text message, and the whole thing has gotten thoroughly out of control.
The teens have been charged with aggravated voyeurism, which carries with it a fine of $500 – $5,000 and up to 10 years behind bars. The courts’ reaction to this case could be very different than would be the case for a straightforward sexting incident.
The key is that the picture was taken without the subject/victim’s knowledge or permission. That is invasive, and while the teens in this case claim to have done it as a joke, that might not matter.
If the prosecutor or judge here decides that this was a serious invasion of privacy, without the victim’s knowledge and against his wishes, and that the intent was to humiliate or harm him, chances are this case will not be swept under the rug.
We agree that the boys were probably joking, and hope that this case is resolved quietly, but this we’d like to use this as a stern warning for parents. Of course, talk to your teens about the risks of sexting, but also be sure to warn them that there are some acts (even jokes!) that may be viewed by the courts as being much more serious than plain old sexting. This may be one of them.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.