Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why Creating a Misdemeanor Offense for Consensual Teen Sexting in Virginia is NOT an Option

In a meeting with a Virginia Legislator today they expressed their concern that Virginia juveniles are facing pornography charges but they favored creating a new misdemeanor crime instead of amending our current 4 Child Pornography Statutes.

That proposal is such a bad one for many reasons but the #1 reason is this. 

In the US anyone who has a sexual conviction in one State and then moves to another State could be required to Registered as a Sex Offender in that new State even if they didn’t in the original State. 

Let me explain. 

The Federal Adam Walsh Act and the Interstate Compact make it very clear that Registered Sex Offenders can not escape their requirement to register by moving to another State. 

If someone convicted of public urination in Florida or Alabama (which both requires registration as a Sex Offender) moves to Virginia even though Virginia doesn’t criminalize public urination as a registrable offense, they must continue to register while in Virginia and they are listed on the VSP Registry. 

It also goes the other way. 

If someone is convicted of a sexual crime let’s say in New Jersey that does NOT require registration as a Sex Offender but then moves to Virginia and the equivalent crime here DOES require registration we will place them on the VSP Registry. Now, if they are upset by this and they returned to New Jersey thinking they won’t be a Registered Sex Offender there because they weren’t originally, they’d be wrong. Because once they were placed on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry they are now obligated to register anywhere they move to, but if they had just stayed put in NJ then they wouldn’t be required to register. 

So........If Virginia makes consensual Sexting a crime of any sort (misdemeanor or felony) even if it doesn’t require registration as a Sex Offender here if they ever move to another State which is highly probable if that State does require registration as a Sex Offender for consensual Sexting or perhaps that State even claims that our misdemeanor is the equivalent to their felony child pornography, then that young person becomes a Registered Sex Offender and even if they return to Virginia hoping to be exempt, they wouldn’t be they would now be a Registered Sex Offender in all 50 States and have to do the minimum time-frame required before they could petition for removal if that is even an option in that State. 

This would be the #1 reason NOT to create a misdemeanor crime for consensual Sexting that did not include force, threat, intimidation, extortion, secretly taping or mass posting/emailing to others. And this would be my main opposition if such a Bill was ever proposed in Virginia. 

Adding a four-year age-gap (for age appropriate relationships), with a minimum/maximum age limit (12 or 13)but to also include the 18 and 19 year old by NOT stating minors for all 4 of Virginia’s Child Pornography statutes is the best option for the creator, sender and receiver of Teen Sexting. 

Creating new lesser crimes to prevent overzealous Prosecutors from over charging juveniles will NOT lower the rate of charges, it would actually raise the rate because the Prosecutors would see the new misdemeanor as ‘not so bad’ and a way to ‘teach the juvenile a hard lessen’ AND to keep their conviction rate high which is the  major goal of most Prosecutors.

Teen Sexting should NOT be a criminal offense! 

Mary Devoy 

Some recommended reading on the topic:
  • Adolescent Sexual Behavior in the Digital Age: Considerations for Clinicians, Legal Professionals and Educators by Fabian Saleh, Albert Grudzinskas and Abigail Judge
  • Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent (Feminist Media Studies) by Amy Adele Hasinoff
  • Sexting and Cyberbullying: Defining the Line for Digitally Empowered Kids by Shaneen Shariff
  • Refining Child Pornography Law: Crime, Language, and Social Consequences (Law, Meaning, and Violence) by Carissa Byrne
  • Sexting and Young People by Thomas Crofts , M. Lee , A. McGovern and S. Milivojevic