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The era of the 14-year-old sex offender

Submitted by on Friday, 27 March 2009 One Comment
Coming to a town near you: The arrest of a teen on child pornography charges for taking pictures of herself.

It happened again this week in New Jersey, when a 14-year-old was arrested after posting nude photos for her boyfriend on her MySpace page.

A prosecutor in Pennsylvania had threated to do the same in October, after school officials discovered photos of three girls in various states of undress - but none undressed enough to be pornographic under Pennsylvania law, their lawyers say - on boys' cell phones.

The prosecutor said he would drop it if the 20 students agreed to probation and a five-week program about the dangers of pornography. Seventeen students acquiesced, but three took their case to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU now is suing the prosecutor on the girls' behalf, saying the threat violated the teens' rights to free speech.

Possible prison sentences. Names and photos posted on state sex offender Web sites. Registration for a decade as a sex offender. For taking pictures of yourself.

Sound a little loony? Maureen Kanka agrees. Her daughter Megan was the inspiration for Megan's Law, which requires sex offenders to register with authorities.

“Megan’s Law … It’s for sex offenders,” Kanka told The Record of Bergen County, N.J. “These kids aren’t sex offenders.”

No, they're not. They're acting stupidly and dangerously and without thinking through possible consequences should those images travel beyond their circles. In the MySpace case, the potential was great for that happening.

Speaking of ramifications, though, let's suppose one of these kids was convicted buy found the path of the straight and narrow after that. Under Megan's Law, the sex offender registration would dog them from a decade, blocking everything from potential career choices to places to live.

Seems  a bit harsh for punishment for a teen-age indescretion.

Yes, these kids need a good talking to and a grounding and a loss of cell phone and digital imaging privileges until they're 40. Computer access would be limited to homework. Emphasis more on the "talking to," though, otherwise you run the risk of teaching them nothing more than to be more careful and not get caught the next time.

Yes, teens behaving in this manner is a problem, though it's largely a new one because other than the possibility of passing around Polaroids, the technology didn't exist a decade ago. And even Polaroids didn't have the potential to fly around the world and back in a day or so the way electronic images can.

But to use a law meant to protect minors to turn teens into criminals?

I don't get that.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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One Comment »

  • Kevin Duffy said:

    My thoughts regarding the enforcement of quite a few laws when it comes to minors (I am defining those as under 18 who have not committed a crime of violence such as rape or murder) is that while I understand and appreciate that law enforcement officers and prosecuting attorneys are merely carrying out the intent of respective state legislatures in writing the statutes that get on the books, a much better approach, in my humble opinion, is rehabilitation through some means that will satisfy the need to enforce the laws passed by our respective legislatures in a common-sense manner (now, I could go on forever re: what that may mean). Anyway, as a practicing lawyer who has represented quite a few children charged as either status offenders or juvenile delinquents and witnessing retribution rather than rehabilitation as the method of punishment AND then seeing these children grow to adulthood and become criminals, I honestly believe that the heavy-handed approach sometimes used in many cases creates what we should seek to avoid in the first place; that is, making these children believe they are criminals, creating martyrs of them within their peer group, and then having to deal with the mess (at quite a high cost in both terms of money and the havoc wreaked on society) when they become adults who believe that they are criminals and therefore act in a fashion that fulfills the prophecy created by the juvenile criminal justice system way back when they were wee tikes caught with drugs or destroying property, etc.