Monday, April 13, 2009

Making Sexting Legal - Vermont

With every case of teen sexting making national headlines, the media has wasted no time creating a literal epidemic overnight in the rush to jump on the ratings bandwagon while it's in town. It's good to see that the firestorm may have, in this instance, been helpful to bring everyone's awareness to the issue, as the legislature in Vermont considers legalizing it, or at least providing protections for teens who "sext."

If you don't already know, sexting involves the sharing of nude or erotic images of oneself via cellphone, which is a risky behavior for anyone to do, but when teens do it, it is automatically criminal. This is because all material that features teens below the legal age is considered child pornography, and it doesn't matter even if the teen simply snapped a shot of themselves. By possessing such an image, they're guilty of possessing child pornography. If they send the picture to friends, either seriously or as a joke, they're also guilty of disseminating child pornography. It has become a serious concern, as unknowing teens have found themselves behind bars, and some labled and registered as sex offenders even, for doing something they may have originaly thought to be harmless, or just some prank.

The proposed law change would make Vermont the first state in the nation to respond to this manufactured chaos, but opinions are mixed as to how it ought to be implemented:

The law change is receiving widespread support from prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, women’s groups and others. Still, some advocates are questioning whether the proposal crosses the line between legalizing a common practice among teens experimenting with sexuality and protecting predators who target and exploit youngsters.
Crucially, the law only covers "consensual" sexting between teens, carving out an exception in the law for this very specific case, so as to leave all other laws intact. Sexting that is done to harrass or play practical jokes on teens would still be considered criminal. These are important distinctions to be made, and it is refreshing that there are people who are thinking deeply about the parameters of this issue. For instance, one can't help but compliment the words of Sen. Sears (D-Bennington):

“This isn’t an issue of whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing — I think it’s wrong — but the question is, do we want kids to be prosecuted, called sex offenders, etc., etc., for consensual conduct? No,” said Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington.
Even if there is slight disagreement about the exact logistics, everyone seems to see this as a big step in the right direction. If you live in Vermont, tell your senators that you support this law change. Hopefully other states will catch on.

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