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Monday, March 22, 2010

Growing consensus to handle teen sexting differently

Great news on the New York Times's front page yesterday: "There is growing consensus among lawyers and legislators," the Times reports, "that the child pornography laws are too blunt an instrument to deal with [naked photo-sharing, or sexting, which the paper describes in a slightly odd way as] an adolescent cyberculture in which all kinds of sexual pictures circulate on sites like MySpace and Facebook." The description left out cellphones, largely the focus of the public discussion about sexting (if not the activity itself). "Last year, Nebraska, Utah and Vermont changed their laws to reduce penalties for teenagers who engage in such activities," the Times continues, "and this year, according to the National Council on State Legislatures, 14 more states are considering legislation that would treat young people who engage in sexting differently from adult pornographers and sexual predators." And last week saw "the first case ever to challenge the constitutionality of prosecuting teens for 'sexting'," reports. "A unanimous three-judge panel [of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia] concluded there was no probable cause to bring any charges against the girls who had appeared in various states of undress in photos shared among a group of teens. Missing from the prosecutor's case, the court said, was critical evidence about who exactly had transmitted the images," according to, which added the court also found that former prosecutor George Skumanick, Jr., had "violated parents' rights by usurping their roles." According to the Times, states are considering various ways to handle sexting by minors – some as a misdemeanor, others as a juvenile offence along the lines of "truancy or running away." Do read the Times piece for legal scholars' views. [Here's my earlier post about the Pennsylvania case.]

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