How’s this for prosecutorial logic run amok: a teenage boy in the US is facing charges for sexting his girlfriend. He’s now 17 years old. Under North Carolina law, that makes him an adult, which thereby makes him eligible to face felony charges of sexually exploiting a minor by sexting.
So far, so logical. But let’s add some super-duper stupid sauce to this souffle – because he sexted selfies when he was 16, he now stands accused of exploiting himself.
The Fayetteville Observer reports that the boy – who was the quarterback of his high school football team until the charges forced him to resign – has been hit with five charges of sexually exploiting a minor: four for making and possessing two sexually explicit pictures of himself and one for possessing a copy of the picture that his girlfriend took of herself and willingly sent to him.
Because he’s considered an adult – in the US, the states of New York and North Carolina consider 16 to be the age of adulthood for criminal purposes – he’s looking at a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years.
So far however, the prosecutors sound like they’re inclined to iron this out without ridiculously draconian sentencing.
His girlfriend, who willingly sent him explicit pictures about a year ago, was also charged with felonies related to being her own child pornographer. She has already been let off on a plea bargain that included dropping the felony charges against her.
The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office had concluded that she committed two felony sex crimes against herself and arrested her in February.
She was listed on a warrant as both the adult perpetrator and the minor victim of two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor: second-degree exploitation for making her photo and third-degree exploitation for having her photo in her possession.
On 21 July, the girl admitted in court that she was responsible for the crime of disseminating harmful material to minors, which is a misdemeanor and which doesn’t require her to register as a sex offender.
District Court Judge Stephen Stokes put the teenage girl on probation for a year. He also ordered her to pay $200 in court costs, to stay in school, to take a class on how to make good decisions, to refrain from using illegal drugs or alcohol, to not possess a mobile phone for the duration of her one-year probation, and to do 30 hours of community service.
If she’d been convicted, she’d have been compelled to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, the boy in the case is still facing this prospect.
Keep in mind that when it comes to sexual intercourse, the kids did nothing illegal, if they in fact did have sex.
Sex between consenting 16-year-old teens is legal in North Carolina, and the age dips even younger than that for teens who are less than four years apart in age.
Taking and sending pictures of your genitals, however, is not legal, if you’re a minor and/or sending photos to a minor.
How did the cops even know?
According to Sheriff’s Office lawyer Ronnie Mitchell, the two teens didn’t share their photos with anyone else, for which we shout a hearty hallelujah!
As it is, we usually hear of sexting teens after they share the images with their friends, the photos go viral, and cyber-bullying ensues, sometimes with tragic consequences.
If you’re wondering whether or not North Carolina police are using some new kind of sexting stingray to sniff out underage smut, you can relax: it wasn’t overuse of surveillance technology that snared these kids.
It sounds more like a rather strenuous use of plain old vanilla “give me all your phones, you young’ns” surveillance.
Although the couple apparently didn’t share their photos with anybody except each other, they were found out after the images were caught up in a sexting dragnet: Mitchell told the Fayetteville Observer that police found the photos while investigating other explicit photos being shared without the consent of those in the pictures.
The paper subsequently reported that no search warrant had been issued for the boy’s phone.
The charging police officer, Detective Fiona Miranda, of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, noted in court documents that the teenager and his family were cooperative throughout the investigation, that he’s a good student and athlete, that his family is supportive, and that the photos were just between him and a girlfriend.
“Recommend release to parents,” the documents said.
Some might say they should have simply been released to their parents without this Kafkaesque drama.
They’re going to be 18 in a year, at which point their sexting would have been legal under North Carolina law.
To have sexted at the age of 16 wasn’t advisable. We’re always telling people, regardless of their age, to be careful of the content they share.
With the internet, you never know where that material will turn up or what sadistic trollery it will wind up fueling.
But, baffling as it is(!!), many teenagers completely ignore the advice of security publications.
Case in point: the BBC on Thursday reported on yet another boy, this one a 14-year-old from the north of England, who took a photo of himself naked in his bedroom, sent it via Snapchat to a classmate, and found himself put on a police database, potentially for 10 years.
(Of course, the Snapchat didn’t really disappear. Particularly given that the recipient saved it and sent it to her chums!)
Here’s the thing, no matter how much security conscious people – including, of course, parents and even Snapchat itself – ask kids to keep their clothes on and their trigger-happy selfie fingers to themselves, they don’t.
They don’t. They just don’t. And that’s completely natural at this age.
In 2014, Drexel University, in Pennsylvania, came out with a report that found that more than 50% of those surveyed had exchanged sexually explicit text messages, with or without photos, as minors.
The majority weren’t aware of the legal ramifications.
Michelle Drouin, a psychologist with Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, who’s studied sexting among young people, told the Fayetteville Observer that charging young people with felony counts for the behaviour “seems like overkill:”
It's becoming a way that people are initiating sexual contact with one another.
In fact, nowadays, sexting is the equivalent of what the old baseball metaphor for sex would dub “second base”, she said.
One thing I definitely would say is that sexting has become so intertwined with budding sexuality that I think these are exactly the people who are going to be sending these pictures.
Jeff Temple, a psychologist of the University of Texas Medical Branch, noted that there are other options besides criminalising young people:
Our resources should be more on education and not on punishment with this type of sexting. ... More education with respect to actual sexual behavior, and more importantly - I can't say this enough - is more information on healthy relationships and what healthy relationships look like with adolescents.
The Drexel study backs him up: those teens who reported being aware of the legal ramifications of sexting didn’t do it as much as those who reported being oblivious.
The solution to this state of affairs is two pronged: more education has to be directed at kids, and the laws must be overhauled.
At this point, existing laws, tailored as they are to deal with the serious crimes of child pornography and child exploitation, are an atrocious fit with the teenage culture of sexting.
These two cases in North Carolina and the UK show that if we don’t fix our laws, and if prosecutors don’t use common sense, courts are going to be filled to the brim with kids who have the audacity to be kids.
Image of sexting graphic courtesy of Shutterstock.com
23 comments on “Sexting teen accused of sexually exploiting himself”
You can commit sex crimes against yourself as a teenager? Oh shit, am I in trouble.
I think the authorities need to get a handle on how many people are involved in this case. Right now their math doesn’t make sense: (1) the perpetrator; and (2) his younger self.
Yeah, isn’t the insane?
There is a peer pressure aspect, if he was still in high school at the time, impact on those others who were minors.
But this “put on sex offender list” approach is simply psychotic.
In part, for ostensibly victimizing their former selves.
Kids can be stupid. We need to lock them up for a decade – that’ll teach ‘em!
While there are instances which warrant it, this is feels like they’re in dark trenchcoats pulling people from their homes for showing too much ankle.
Sex is legal at 16 in North Carolina & probably marrying your sister – just don’t take a picture of anything!
Worse than the IS
Sixteen year old boy parts? Oh, the humanity!
To encrypt or not to encrypt… Now it makes more sense 🙂
People need to start behaving accordingly, and all this expectation of privacy online needs to stop. If people would realize that privacy online is a farce, then there would be less of this going around. People who expect privacy online are naive and ignorant to the technology that surrounds them. Even so called end to end encryption and use of tor and other anonymous means will not protect your privacy. Either party on either end of the communication channel can take a screenshot or copy and paste and save to the internet for history to record. So people need to wake up and stop expecting privacy online and conduct themselves accordingly. Its in the public domain just like walking down the street, so you should ask yourself this do you feel comfortable walking 100% nude down the street, or would it make you feel uncomfortable and sick? If the latter, then why would you take a naked picture of yourself?
I feel like you and I read entirely different articles.
Wow let me get this straight you think that it is OK for some idiot district attorney to ruin the lives of two kids for what they did to themselves at sixteen. The girl in this case is very lucky to have escaped a felony conviction and mandatory life long punishment as a registered sex offender that society has deemed a just punishment. The male in this case will most likely not be so lucky and will be tried and ruined for life as a registered sex offender. A good kid will be deigned a collage education while setting in prison and will become a registered sex offender for what he did to himself while a legally defined child. What is wrong here is that prosecutors spend so much time trying to get cases that make them look good here in the good old USA land of the free and home of the prudes that real crime goes unpunished and children become victims of the state. There is nothing right about this entire story and kids will pay the price. The only good thing in this entire story is that the author had the guts to write it.
The DA didn’t ruin the kids, the kids and their lack of anything that resembles good and decent parenting ruined these teenagers. They need to be held accountable for their actions. What is wrong with today’s youth is that they are rather naive and ignorant about the technology they bury themselves in, that they do not understand the long term ramifications of their adolescent postings. This whole “respect my privacy and right thereof mentality” needs to stop. There is no expectation of privacy in today’s ever technologically advancing society. As with guns you treat them as if they are loaded, so one should treat the internet as anyone can see what you post.
You want privacy control what you do online and how you conduct your digital life. You want to post that you got hammered at a school party, and later apply to a teaching position or another job, only to find out that you didn’t make the cut due to that posting don’t blame the company or manager for that, but take a long look in the mirror and hold yourself accountable for your actions. These teens broke the law, and for that they should be punished.
Dan, with respect, you sound as out of touch as the current laws on this subject matter. The debate is not really about whether or not the Internet is private, nor whether users of it expect privacy. The debate is about what children do at a time in their lives when their brains are not fully developed enough to gauge future consequences of their actions, and whether the current laws around sexting set them up to fail. Most would argue that adolescents won’t be good at modifying their behavior based on potential future consequences (heck, adults are bad enough at it), and the current laws intended for pornography are being grossly misapplied.
As for bad parenting, you may not have read this statement in the article:
“In 2014, Drexel University, in Pennsylvania, came out with a report that found that more than 50% of those surveyed had exchanged sexually explicit text messages, with or without photos, as minors.”
So I must conclude that by your measure, half the parents out there “lack anything resembling good and decent parenting.” Respectfully again, I take exception to that, sir.
And I would like for Drexel to go out and perform another study to study that parenting habits of those children, and make a determination. I can guarantee that these parents take no interest in their children lives, because they are working two jobs to make ends meet, so these children are left alone and unsupervised. There have been countless times that my parents have gone through my things in my room at random making sure I was doing anything wrong like drugs and what not, because if the cops came over and there was drugs in my room guess who would go to jail not me, but my parents for having allowed drugs to be in their house. Up until I was 18 this was the policy in my house hold, and I knew the ramification of misbehaving because I got punished. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I was allowed to keep a computer in my room, and until then the computer was in a wide open area where anyone could see what you were doing online and with who. That is good parenting, but giving a pre-teen / teenager a cell phone with full internet capabilities and the ability to take pictures you are introducing your child to a vast darkness that is the web without any protection. My son is 8 years old, and he has a tablet, I go through it on the weekends and make sure he isn’t doing anything nefarious on it, and I have removed applications that require or need access to social networking sites, and limit applications that may share data to the internet. I also go through his media on it, and see if there is anything out of place. If there is I confront him and discuss it with him. Being in IT Security, I know full well that ramifications of posting and sharing to much online. I have seen many cases where over sharing and posting has caused a lot of grief for people.
Parenting: When I was 16, my parents came and peeked over my shoulder during a chat session I was having and they read “masturbation” guess what they did immediately? They pulled the phone cord, and took away my computer privileges away for a month. I can guarantee that with so many children being exposed to smart phones and tablets that many parents are naive and ignorant to what their children (8 to 17) are doing online and with who. Due to lack of parenting, their children maybe growing up with the false notion that sexting and sharing nudes is a culturally accepted norm and is perfectly right, but it is far from that. Did you read the article about that guy who sent explicit pictures to his HR Manager of a new company? Had he been respectable and mature enough he would not have had those images on his phone to send to in the first place. Do you have nudes on your devices? I know I do not, because that is stuff meant for the privacy in your own home. This also goes back to the apple icloud hack and so many people crying foul that their privacy was violated, their privacy was null and void once they took their images and were uploaded to the cloud, but had they taken the right steps such as not taking those images then those images wouldn’t have existed and no one would see them naked.
Nice story. You want a specific parenting study.
Does that mean these kids – and the one who turned 18, ostenibly while in school should suffer the most extreme punishment, to bolster your piece of mind, or parenting style?
For being naked.
The 18 year old could have been having sex with his girlfriend & had fewer legal penalties in front of him.
Apparently they authorities knew to be more sensible about this than bring full charges, though threatening to charge the girl for having pictures of herself – is just dumb.
Finding those pictures in a larger ring, if they did — brings up the question how they got there.
I agree with this, and I agree with the charges. If any other adult was caught with that 16 year old’s pornographic pictures on his phone, computer, etc. he would be shown no leniency. So why should it be any different for an adult with pornographic pictures of his own childhood image on his phone? The story boils down to the fact that an adult has pornographic images of a child in his possession, and that is illegal. So if you’d charge any other adult for possession of this 16 year old’s pictures, why would you make an exception for this man? Granted, this leads to some awfully bizarre consequences, but the law is the law, and it must be applied equally to all.
It’s been seen time and time again that private images leak out to the greater internet. If underaged sexting continues and the law ignores it, minors themselves will become the most prolific producers of child porn if they haven’t already. What’s even more concerning to me as a father is the question of ownership of the device. If I bought my under-age child a phone and he’s got pornographic images of under-aged girls on that phone, could it be suggested by an overly-aggressive prosecutor that since I bought the phone, signed the contract with the service provider, and paid for its data package, the phone and the child porn on it are actually MY possessions? Frankly, I don’t want to end up in a federal penitentiary for a decade because some young girl was mature enough to take her nude photo but not mature enough to imagine that it might land her boyfriend’s father in jail.
I think we need a whole-sale change of the laws here. Either we exempt media that is clearly self-shot from the class of media referred to as child exploitation, or we make the content producers (i.e. the minors, themselves) take as much responsibility for their illegal production of dangerous content as anyone else who might knowingly or unknowingly be caught in posession of their works.
“Ruined these kids?”
Wow. Guess their done for the rest of their lives.
There is a guy in the UK who feels comfortable walking down the street 24/7/365 nude. Apart from us not having the weather for it 90% of the time, although he feels comfortable, most other people don’t and so he spends a lot of time in jail.
I guess many of us saw each other as kids in changing rooms, bedrooms etc which would get us into trouble these days if captured on phone cameras.
And that seems to be the difference – in the past, the images were captured in the mind’s eye, and could only be shared in words, whereas today, it is the images themselves that are captured, and potentially shared.
Unfortunately, the application of law seems unable to take account of the context, and this case is a clear example.
This is more than STUPID.
Its nearly criminally stupid –> by the cops.
The Morality Police Run Amok
Why the hell aren’t these people catching terrorists or doing something useful?
OK, so kids do dumb things. There’s some sense in addressing a participant still a minor & a peer pressure aspect.
However they are not all innocent babes, nor do not emerge from the chrysalis an adult in every way, though legally we treat them that way.
But to put them on a 10 year sex offender list? Madness.
On the other hand, the one guy is an adult, so they can punish him for sexting himself? In order to make an example, put someone’s head on a stake at the perimeter of the terotry (if we were honest).
All for us to believe the world is still the Leave it to Beaver 1950’s!
Does that mean it’s possible to steal from one’s self? Am I OK to drive my own car to work, or would that be grand theft auto?
Seems to me, if the kid was a minor and sent explicit photos of himself (child pornagraphy), that as a minor, his parents should be responsible. I’d be all for hauling the parents in and holding them accountable for his actions. Let his folks do 10 years and prison to set precedence, and maybe parents will start monitoring what their kids do on cellphones and tablets…or better yet, maybe they just won’t buy their kids these devices and tell them to go play outside like a real child instead.
Gash darn it all! (stamps foot)
Strikes me that the police have completely failed to keep the victim (the boy) and the perpetrator of this crime (the boy) physically separated, so as not to pose a threat to one another.
I think the police should be prosecuted for this clear breach of their duty and compensation awarded to the victim.
I own pictures taken of me by my parents when I was six months-old and in the bath. I’m now 30-something, presumably this mean that I can now be prosecuted for possessing naked baby photos of myself? Crazyness.
The court system gets dumb and dumber (and I’m not talking about a movie) with each passing moment