Great piece! Except it wasn’t a D.C. detective, it was a
detective. Manassas Virginia
I’ve been saying for a few years now Virginia needs to add an age gap allowance of 4 years so any teens including (18 and 19 year olds) couldn’t be swept up in our Child Pornography laws by overzealous Commonwealth’s Attorneys and Legislators who are on such a Moral-High Horse they refuse to admit teenagers think about sex, talk about sex, and willingly participate in sexual acts. And because of that willful ignorance many teens continue to face the possibility of criminal charges, investigations, public humiliation and possible registration as a Sex Offender when the authorities find out what they have on their phones.
Perverting teen sexting laws, January 10, 2016
By Robby Soave
Laws that punish minors as sex offenders for perfectly normal behaviors harm teenagers.
A D.C.-area police detective who investigated teen “sexting” — i.e. teens texting nude photos of themselves to each other — killed himself last month as officers tried to arrest him on pedophilia charges. The allegations, if true, represent a grave betrayal of the public’s trust. But people should not settle for outrage over the irony of this detective’s personal failings.
They should also demand reform of sexting laws that require agents of the state to violate teenagers’ bodies.
Police detective David Abbott first made headlines in the summer of 2014 for his involvement in the investigation of a Manassas, Va., 17-year-old, who had swapped naked pictures with his 15-year-old girlfriend. The authorities sought a warrant to transport the teen to a medical facility, inject him with drugs that would give him an erection and photograph his genitals. They deemed this unbelievably invasive course of action necessary to determine whether the young man had, in fact, sent his girlfriend inappropriate photos. When the teen’s lawyer remarked that the warrant was “crazy,” Abbott sued her for defaming him.
Eventually, the 17-year-old received a year of probation — and social media exile — for swapping consensual nude photos with his girlfriend. Abbott’s alleged inappropriate relationship with two boys, ages 11 and 13, came to light only recently.
Whether the detective’s proclivities played any role in his overzealous quest to obtain pictures through the legal system is unknown.
Even so, the truth is that all teens prosecuted as sex criminals for engaging in normal teen behavior are victims of abuse — even in cases where the police behave more scrupulously than Abbott did. Subjecting kids to criminal sanctions for violating ill-considered child exploitation laws is simply the wrong approach.
While sending and receiving sexually explicit photographs of underage children is illegal everywhere in the U.S., most states fail to distinguish between truly evil, predatory behavior — say, a 40-year-old sexting a 13-year-old — and teens who are basically the same age participating in consensual relationships — a 17-year-old sexting a 15-year-old, for instance.
While some states consider the latter category of crimes to be misdemeanors,
not distinguish offenders by age. A Virginia
teen who sends a nude picture of himself can receive three felony charges for creating,
distributing and possessing child pornography. Convicted offenders —
even teen offenders — are placed on the sex offender registry. Virginia
Perhaps no case underlines the absurdities of these laws better than the witch hunt against a
17-year-old boy, Cormega Copening, who exchanged
sexts with his girlfriend, 16. Police searched his phone for unrelated
reasons, found the pictures and charged him with sexually exploiting
minors: his girlfriend, and himself. Indeed, North Carolina ’s child pornography laws
consider teens to be minors until they turn 18. But the age of consent in North Carolina is 16, meaning
that sex between them was legal — just not filming or photographing
it. Further complicating the picture, North Carolina is one of two states that sets the age of
adulthood — for sentencing purposes — at 16. In other words, the state
could charge Copening as an adult for exploiting a minor, though he was the
minor. He could have been jailed up to 10 years and was
fortunate to get off with probation. North Carolina
Proponents of these laws claim they are necessary to protect kids from sex predators. They also frequently insist that teens shouldn’t be sexting anyway, and that there’s no harm in keeping the activity illegal. What they don’t seem to understand is that sexts are ubiquitous — more than half of college undergraduates surveyed sent them as minors, according to researchers at Drexel University. Are these kids taking on some risk? Sure. Should their parents and teachers caution them against sexting? Absolutely. But arresting them, expelling them from school, smearing their names in the news media and placing them on the sex offender registry are all punishments vastly disproportionate to the “crime.” Funneling teens into the criminal justice system for expressing sexual interest in other teens is simply much more harmful to them than sexting is.
States ought to consider laws that exempt everyone under the age of 18 from child pornography laws. The technology might be new, but human nature isn’t: Teens are interested in sex, and no amount of moral-panic-induce government interference is going to change that.