Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bloomberg – Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial on Teen Sexting Was an Uneducated and Vindictive Rant

Dear Margaret Carlson, 

I have read your recent OpEd that was picked up by the Richmond Times Dispatch (my local newspaper).  Sexting: Teens trade naked selfies for mug shots, April 12, 2014

I will first address the portions of your piece where I agree with you (#1 and #2).
  1. Today’s teenagers who have grown up with Internet access, social media websites and electronic devices that take photos and videos do not think before they take an image, post and share it. 
This is because the human brain is not fully developed until we are in our 20’s so teenagers and young adults do not consider the outcome or consequences of their sporadic actions. Their “urge to share” as you mentioned is not because they are reckless, it’s because that portion of the brain is not fully developed.  

Children are not small adults and should not be treated as such by our criminal justice system, but it seems you think they should. 

  1. Parents should be much more involved in what their children are doing on-line and off-line. That includes adding parental controls to devices for minors.
Parents are not their children’s friends; they are their parents and need to take that role seriously.  

In your piece you referenced the recent Fairfax, VA sexting case and an Illinois case. 

I have been following the Fairfax, VA case closely.
·        Local teens investigated for “sexting” , April 8, 2014
·        ACLU questions validity of massive child pornography investigation in Louisa, April 4, 2014
·        Authorities bust massive teen sexting spree, over 100 teens involved, April 4, 2014

In 2014 alone we’ve had two other cases make the news here in Virginia.
·        Chesterfield youth could face child porn charges for ‘sexting’, March 14, 2014
·        James City teen's tweet a criminal act or poor judgement? February 6, 2014

Now I’m going to address where you ran completely off-the-tracks with your OpEd. 

You included the Steubenville Ohio football team sexual assault/rape where the images were posted in a “sexting” editorial. Teens taking provocative, semi-nude and nude images of themselves when they have not been threaten, forced, intimated or blackmailed (sexting) has absolutely nothing to do with the sexual assault of a unconscious teen by other teens that was later posted online. The title of your piece Sexting: Teens trade naked selfies for mug shots should have been re-titled once you included the Steubenville case that was not sexting. 

In your summary you said, “If criminal charges are brought in Virginia and Barrington, let’s hope it makes headlines and becomes a teachable moment in every middle and high school. Maybe that’s what it takes to get through those thick skulls.” 

The 100 Virginia teenagers have been waiting for weeks to learn their fate, will the Commonwealth Attorney file charges or not for their behavior.  Under the looming threat of prosecution one of them might give up waiting on the Prosecutor to make a decision like Christian Adamek of Alabama did back in October 2013 hanging himself out of fear of being a registered sex offender for a stupid teenage stunt that did not harm anyone. 

Under current Virginia law teenager sexting is the equivalent of Child Pornography. Including the production, the distribution and the possession, all carry a mandatory minimum sentence. This means the judge in charge of their case has his/her hands tied, no matter what the specifics of the individual case is the defendant (14, 15, 16 and 17 year old) will be convicted with multiple felonies (one for each image) and sent to prison for  5-20 years for each image they created, shared or possessed. Once they are released from prison (if they survive) they will be required to register as a public Sex Offender for the rest of their life. They will be classified as Violent, not Non-Violent and they will be required to follow a set of legal rules and regulations that change every year and the state of Virginia makes absolutely NO effort to advise them of and any slip-up would be a new felony charge and more time in prison. Their VSP Registry posting will list charges of Child Pornography, the year the charges occurred, if the “victim” (which could be the offender if it's the one who produced and disseminated the image, victim and offender are one in the same) was a minor or not and the offender’s current age. So anyone scanning their post will see they are 25+ years old and they were convicted of Child Pornography 9 years ago. The reader will not know they took the photo of themselves, that they are also "the victim" or that they received the image in question from their girlfriend or classmate who was the same age as they were at the time. The assumption will be that the now 25 year old Violent Offender is in reality a Pedophile, a Pervert and a Predator viewing and trading in sexual images of children and as they become older that incorrect perception will become even more skewed.   

Sexting teenagers are who the Sex Offender Registries were created to list as they pose no threat to anyone; they are not a risk to society, they do not require monitoring. 

But according to you, that’s exactly what they need. Some tough-love, a lesson learned. You want them to be held up as an example so others do not make the same mistakes, a public sacrificial lamb. If their lives and futures are destroyed then others in the future will be saved.  Not exactly a civics lesson, is it? 

As a Registered Violent Sex Offender they will not be accepted to college, they will never be able to have a career but only a job, they will be denied housing and employment because of the label, they will finding dating almost impossible and if they do marry someone and have children they will be prohibited from taking their children to daycare or school, they will be prohibited from attending their school recitals, football games and even graduation. Their spouse would basically be a single parent when it comes to their children’s needs and activities outside the home and because of the label their chances of having their marriage end in divorce is much more likely than the average marriage. 

Well I’m not willing to sacrifice the lives and futures of Virginia teenagers who take, send or receive sexual images of friends and acquaintances to teach a lesson to others. 

Teen sexting should not be considered child pornography if there was no force, threats, intimation or money exchanged. Also if the images were not stolen or hacked but shared/posted by the person in the image that should not be considered child pornography, but teen sexting. 

The Virginia Legislators need to separate Teen Sexting from Child Pornography in the Code of Virginia. It should be a misdemeanor, not a felony, with the requirement of classes on the risks and criminal possibilities once they turn 18 years old, maybe some public service. Perhaps a ban on electronic devices (phones) and social media for a year or two. If they need to use a computer at home it must be in a public location for their parents to watch them.  

But no prison, no DOC Probation, no Sex Offender therapy, no mandated polygraphs, no Penile plethysmography (PPG) for the males, no registration as a Sex Offender with lifetime monitoring/tracking. 

There was proposed legislation in Virginia in 2010 AND 2014 to discern teen-to-teen images and real child pornography and the Virginia House Courts of Justice Criminal-Sub Committee has refused to take action BOTH years.
Our elected officials have twice refused to separate the consenting teens from real child pornographers, kind of like your stance. Hang ‘em all! 

This is an issue I’ve have been advocating for, for the last 6 years.
·         Crime Panel Refuses to Call for Measure to Curb Sexting, December 16, 2009

Have you given this topic any consideration or research before your editorial?

Charging juveniles as sexual deviants and maintaining public registration does more harm than good, not just for the juvenile but for society.
·     Against Juvenile Sex Offender Registration by Catherine L. Carpenter , September 2013:
·     Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US: Human Rights Watch, May 2013:
In summary you may personally feel that teenagers who take and send sexual images deserve a “hard knocks” punishment to shame them into reality but I know that the reality of charging and convicting them under child pornography laws will do more damage than good.  

There is a reasonable solution on the horizon and the Virginia Legislature has had two opportunities to work on that solution but because they don’t want to appear soft of crime or accepting of our teenagers living sexual lives they have failed to act on the proposals and that has lead people like you to demand they crack the whip and impose the only option that exists which is the wrong option. 

Wishing for teens that are experimenting and exploring their own sexuality to become lifetime Violent Sex Offenders with no possibility of a successful future is truly cruel and inhumane and if that was the goal of your editorial, mission accomplished. 


Mary Davye Devoy