When it comes to sex crimes, teenagers seem to have to bear more responsibility than adults. Legislation in many states requires that teens who send inappropriate images of themselves, considered underage pornography in certain situations, are criminally prosecuted.
This has led to the labeling of teens who have sent and/or received nude pictures of a boyfriend or a girlfriend as registered sex offenders. Some of these teenagers are as young as 13 and will have to deal with this label for the rest of their lives.
One teenager has spent six years dealing with the repercussions of sexting a picture of herself to an ex-boyfriend. Once she sent it, he forwarded the image to everyone in his phone's contact list and the next three years of her high school career were spent being regularly teased and bullied.
In another situation, an 18-year-old boy sent a private image of his 16-year-old girlfriend to her entire contact list. The girl's parents reported what he did to the police and now the boy is facing 72 charges including possession and distribution of underage pornography. Not only has he been sentenced to probation, but he will also be considered a sex offender until he is 43 years old.
Wisconsin is among the states that have already criminally prosecuted teens as young as 13-years-old for this type of crime. But is this fair? Teens are sending pictures of themselves to their significant others, and while it may be a questionable judgment call it hardly seems like a crime worthy of a punishment that could change the course of their future.
One state has taken the approach of proposing legislation that would decriminalize the first conviction of sexting. Supporters of the bill believe that professional counseling would be more beneficial to teenagers rather than criminalizing their actions and labeling them as a sex offender for most of their life.
Source: Juvenile Justice Information Exchange online, "Teens Face More Consequences from Sexting than Congressmen Do," Ken Edelstein, 13 June 2011