This post might well be more suited for my law partner, but I thought it was too important to pass up. There might be some overlap in the the matters I practice and the matters I comment on. But all in all, I thought this had to be brought to everyone’s attention.
I have commented in the past on issues about the clash between multi-media and criminal prosecutions. There are the comments about first amendment rights, use of the internet and how sometimes those freedoms we hold so dear to ourselves get kicked around by the government. Now, according to this recent AP story, I haven’t seen any criminal prosecutions coming out of the teens’ actions, but I do know that a prosecution for this action is not unprecedented.
The Associated Press recently ran a story about teenagers sending x-rated pictures of themselves on their cell phones to their friends. According to the story “The instant text, picture and video messages have become part of some teens’ courtship behavior, police and school officials said. The messages often spread quickly and sometimes find their way to public Web sites.” (Source).
So, according to this article, this is happening a lot. And both boys and girls are getting in on the action.
“For instance, a central Ohio high school teen made a sexual cell phone video of himself and sent it to female classmates. One of the girls forward the Westerville South High School’s video to at least 30 other people.” (Source).
So, where is the hypocracy you ask? There is nothing in the law that prohibits teen agers from engaging in consensual sexual contact with one another, so long as they are within the age limitations set by various state laws. In Colorado, if one of the participants is under the age of 15, the other participant cannot be more than 5 years older. And, if both participants are 15 to 17 years old, there are no legal issues, again, consent assumed. (Tough being a lawyer sometimes … have to qualify everything). So, with that precedent established, it is acceptable for those teens to engage in sexual endeavors with one another. BUT, if a photograph is taken, whether the person takes it him or herself, or if another teen takes the picture, the crime of child pornography, or sexual exploitation of a child has occurred — regardless of consent, infatuation or love.
In fact, this occurred in Douglas County Colorado, in one of the fastest growing communities in the country, Highlands Ranch. A group of high school students got together for a party and a “sex fest” (for lack of a better term) broke out. The students took pictures of themselves engaged in various sexual acts. They were all prosecuted for sexual exploitation of a child because of the sexual photos.
As the AP story indicates, “a study last year found teens are placing more of an emphasis on image and fame than in the past. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who studies young people’s trends, found that teens are more confident and assertive than ever before.” Image and Fame? Teens finding ways to express themselves? Expression? Isn’t that what we adults call constitutionally protected speech? Are we saying that teens don’t have the same constitutional rights as adults do to express themselves? Shouldn’t a teenager have the same right to expression? Or, do we follow the thoughts of Candice Kelsey, a teacher from California and author of Generation MySpace: Helping Your Teen Survive Online Adolescence, that “Adolescents are not known for thinking things through – that’s a generational constant.” (Source). Because of this, instead, perhaps we need to pull back on the reigns of teenage expression to keep the wagon from running amok and over a cliff.