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Friday, November 13, 2015

Retired Judge H. Lee Sarokin: Every Teenage Boy in America Is a Felon

Every Teenage Boy in America Is a Felon, November 13, 2015
By Retired Judge H. Lee Sarokin

If you are a male living in the United States above the age of 12, raise your hand if you have never looked at, possessed or shared a picture of a naked female (or male). If you have, you may be a felon subject to imprisonment and be required to register as a sex offender. A small town in Colorado (and others elsewhere) are "scandalized" that a group of students have voluntarily exchanged nude pictures of themselves, and prosecutors are discussing the possibility that some may be charged as felons! Yes, posting nude pictures of yourself may be stupid and the pictures can be used or abused in the future, but we cannot allow looking at them, sharing them or possessing them by students to be a crime. 

True, if they were coerced or are used to bully or extort or a thousand other possible scenarios, it may constitute a crime, but not the innocent conduct so far described. In addition to the threat of long prison sentences and registering as sex offenders, the local football game has been cancelled, and parents are outraged that the school has not done more to stop the practice of "sexting"! Yes, why aren't those schools monitoring the cellphones that our children are using? If the schools aren't watching and controlling what our kids are doing on their cellphones, who else is going to do it?  

The differences between today and yesterday are technology and a totally different attitude toward sex. The single faded, black-and-white photo that teenagers huddled around has been replaced by a thousand copies in color made and distributed by cellphones, and nudity no longer provokes gasps. As a parent, I can certainly understand being upset by having your child voluntarily publicize his or her own nude photo. It could be described as foolish and may turn out to be embarrassing, but looking at it, sharing it or possessing it is neither a scandal nor a crime. We allow our children to watch hours of murders, stabbings, shootings, fighting and endless violence on TV or video games, but for some strange reason nudity is the line in the sand. Let's not criminalize teenagers for being teenagers, and let's not impose parenting responsibilities on schools.