This one is outrageous. A 16 year old boy was arrested and charged as an adult in criminal court and prosecuted for sexually exploiting a minor, under the federal pornography laws. Who was the minor? He was! Yes, North Carolina federal prosecutors prosecuted him for having nude pictures of himself on his cell phone and for sending naked photos of himself to his 15 year old girlfriend. She sent nude photos of herself to him as well. While the photos were never disclosed to anyone else, the two were both charged with four felony counts. The photos were discovered solely because investigators were looking into a bigger problem at the school concerning sexual images being shared without the victims’ consent. These teens weren’t involved in that scandal in any way.
The teens were forced to take a plea deal in order to avoid jail time and being forced to register as sex offenders. In addition to having to agree to be subjected to warrantless searches by law enforcement for a year, the male teen suffered numerous other penalties. Additionally, he was suspended as quarterback of the high school football team while the case was resolved. Additionally, his name was all over the media.
I’m still blown away by this one. In North Carolina, the state in which they were prosecuted, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16. So, while they could legally have actual sex, and take mental pictures of each of their teen bodies, they just couldn’t legally memorialize it with a photo to be shared with the other. Ludicrous!
If I’m being intellectually honest, I must concede that technically, what they did was a crime. That in no way means that prosecutors had to move forward with these cases. It’s called prosecutorial discretion. Use it!!! I’ve done some research and found zero examples where teen lovers were ever prosecuted for consensually sharing naked photos with each other. It makes no sense that prosecutors deemed both teens predators and also the victims, who needed the law’s protection. “Alex, I’ll take gross overreach for a thousand.” When the U.S. Supreme Court made child pornography illegal in 1983, they were determined to protect children from adult predators. I’m certain that they never envisioned that the law would be used to arrest and prosecute teens for taking naked selfies and sending them on cell phones.
While the federal laws apply throughout the U.S., I applaud the 20 states who have enacted laws that make these same acts lawful. Typically known as “Romeo and Juliet laws,” they are absolutely necessary to prevent this type of prosecution when there is no victim.
With an estimated 30% of teens “sexting” each other these days, law enforcement needs to use their discretion and common sense when dealing with these types of cases. If not, let’s just keep building lots of jails and get ready to turn tons of our teens into registered sex offenders.