Sexting: Should Teens be Prosecuted?

Prosecuting kids for taking naked pictures of themselves is idiotic

In the News

Sexting: Should Teens Be Prosecuted?’s correspondent Lisa Bloom will appear on “Dr. Phil” on Thurday, April 16, to discuss sexting

-Lisa Bloom

Teen with cameraphoneSexting is a new word for the most obvious thing an adolescent will do with a new camera phone: snapping a picture of a forbidden body part, or videoing sexual activity, and then sending it around to friends.

Prosecutors, on a mission to protect kids from themselves, have deemed sexting to be possession and distribution of child pornography, and have subsequently commenced a rash of felony prosecutions against minors. Prosecuting kids for sexting?

In at least a dozen states, kids have been arrested or charged with child porn crimes that carry with them possible penalties of many years in prison, and mandatory lifetime registration as sex offenders. The phenomenon is so prevalent that suspects can find specialist attorneys at

Have we lost our minds?

In a recent Pennsylvania case, six teens aged 14 to 17 were charged with creating, distributing and possessing child porn. A 14-year-old New Jersey girl is charged with distribution of child porn for posting sexually explicit photos of herself and her boyfriend on MySpace. In October a Texas eighth-grader spent the night in a juvenile detention center after his football coach found a nude picture on his cell phone that a fellow student sent him.

This is lunacy. Sure, sexting is a terrible idea. Jesse Logan, an 18-year-old Cincinnati teen, committed suicide after her ex-boyfriend emailed around naked cell phone photos of her. Logan was harassed daily by other girls calling her “slut” and “whore” and throwing objects at her. Kids who forward pictures without the subject’s consent, to demean and torment another, should suffer consequences. But girls have been told if they came forward and admitted they have been involved in sexting, they would be charged themselves as child pornographers.

Here’s why we must stop this nonsense immediately, and return some sanity to our criminal justice system:

1. Charging kids for taking pictures of their own bodies violates the spirit of the laws. The purpose of strict child porn laws is to protect children from exploitation by adults. This is analogous to statutory rape laws in most states, which criminalize sex between, say, 25-year-old adults and 15-year-old kids, but not between two 15-year-olds. We get that the power imbalance is so great that an adult-underage adolescent sexual relationship is inherently exploitative. And most of us get that two kids groping each other is a normal part of growing up. Adding a camera does not change that.

2. We are already #1 in the world in incarcerating our own kids. Sad but true. Amnesty USA decries our penchant for throwing underage American kids in prison, often adult prisons, for petty crimes. Locking up kids significantly increases the likelihood that they will become hardened criminals. Incarcerated teens are four times more likely to commit suicide.

3. Sexting hysteria diverts scarce resources from more worthy criminal justice needs. Thousands of rape kits sit on a shelf untested in Chicago, the rapists roaming free. DNA testing that could exonerate death-row inmates? Too expensive to order in most cases, states argued before the Supreme Court last month. But we find the money for police, prosecutors, public defenders, court personnel, judges and prisons in cases against knuckleheaded kids for emailing body-part pictures to their beaus?

4. Allowing teens to be charged as felons for sexting gives way too much authority to power-drunk local prosecutors. Last week a federal judge stepped in to tell a rural Pennsylvania prosecutor to stop threatening teenage girls with arrest if they refused to take a plea and go to mandatory classes he demanded. Two of the girls were wearing bras and towels in the photos, no naughty bits exposed, no sexual activity.

5. It’s a parenting issue. Don’t give your kids the technology without educating them about the consequences of misuse. Monitor their online behavior. Check their phones. One blurry boob picture and they lose the phone and computer for a week. Oh, will they scream! Their heads will explode! They will HATE you, Mom, you are so mean! What-ever. Beats trying to sneak snacks to them at the Big House, and little Johnny’s lifetime registration as a sex offender.

6. Oh, the hypocrisy. A national poll revealed that 20 percent of teens have sexted. Another says 33 percent of adults have done it. I unscientifically surveyed a bunch of my otherwise responsible, mature grownup friends. One hundred percent confessed to sexting at least once, most giggling at the silliness of the memory. Shall we lock up one in five kids for doing what a larger number of adults do?

Compassion, out of vogue in our hang-‘em-high criminal-justice system these days, would really go a long way. Have we adults, who make the rules, forgotten what it was like to be post-pubescent, with raging hormones and weird new bodies? We just didn’t have the technology. We should thank the Almighty that our high school antics of mooning, flashing, and sex in parking lots were not digitally preserved, in a prosecutor’s court file somewhere, Exhibit A against us as we faced prosecution for sexting, staring down a decade in prison and a lifetime of registering as a sexual predator.

Let he who never Xeroxed his butt cast the first stone.

Lisa BloomLisa Bloom hosts “Lisa Bloom Open Court” daily on the legal network, In Session, on truTV 9-11 a.m., and is a CBS News Legal Analyst.






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30 thoughts on “Sexting: Should Teens be Prosecuted?

  1. Wow this is a tough one. “…Possible penalties of many years in prison, and mandatory lifetime registration as sex offenders.” — that’s way too extreme — what a nightmare! And what a way to ruin a young person’s life. On the other hand it does make sense for there to be some kind of penalty or law, with consequences. Just like we have child safety helmet laws when really it should be up to parents to make sure their kids are safe — obviously there are enough idiotic parents who can’t be trusted so we need those laws.

  2. I think the kids should be prosecuted. It will send a strong signal that this behavior is unacceptable. We have lost control of our kids and it is because parents are afraid to be parents. Sexting is for whores, sluts, and scum (male or female) and the kids need to know it is bad behavior and socially unacceptable. It’s simple, if you do it, you get prosecuted. Now, I do feel that first-time offenders in these cases can be worked with in some way and should have the ability to have their records expunged after some community service or something. Maybe write new laws to address the particular issue. But, there must be harsh consequences or the problem will get worse.

  3. I think that you can’t really prosecute someone for taking nude pictures of themselves. That is just a little ridiculous. As for prosecuting other teens for looking at such pics, well – good luck with that. What a waste of time and resources; this totally defeats the purpose of trying to prosecute real sex offenders

  4. This is ridiculous. You Americans are crazy! Mary, dunno wtf your issue is, but a 16 year old girl should not be sent to jail because they took a photo of their ass with the camera phone.
    God, I’ve done that sooo many times, but always for my boyfriend.
    And I had the cop on not to put my face in it!
    Just let the kids be kids and not mess up your society anymore, if that’s posssible.

  5. Marry, what the heck? I totally disagree that sexting is for “whores, sluts, and scum”? Personally, I find it fun, between me and my boyfriend.
    And on the basis of these kids – I think taking all this to the law is stupid, but parents really need to step up and be better parents. We’re letting kids grow up too fast and do what they want at too young of an age.

  6. There’s many divided opinions about this, but what I have no seen mentioned is, the children receiving a penalty…a much lower that what’s being given, they are taking this too far. But we also have to understand our teens aren’t half as innocent as we think.

    A girl who’s taken a single boob pic, okay.

    But one who’s masturbated infront of their camera several times, for SEVERAL people?

    Yeah, that’s just wrong.

    Or the kids who spread it.

    There’s many many ways to stop this, because it’s NOT right.

    Kids who do this repeatedly and send it around intentionally, really need help.

  7. Also, I forgot to add it that it’s much different to take a naughty shot for your love interest, again, I am saying this against the 13 – 17 year olds who send these to multiple people or post the on-line.

  8. Yes, branding these kids “sexual predators” is crazy and counter-productive for helping them grown up to respect themselves and the law. There has to be some middle ground between this extreme and no punishment at all. Prosecute them as juveniles and after they turn 21, expunge their records.

  9. This is clearly NOT a legal issue (or shouldn’t be), this is a parenting issue. If parents would take a more pro-active approach to parenting, and start by instilling self-respect in their kids, perhaps the kids would *respect* their bodies more. Short of that, at least monitor their phone and online activities, and be consistent with the consequences for inappropriate behaviors.

  10. Well, being I am old school as my kids have told me, but I still come out of the 70’s. I have my own ideas about what should be acceptable, but what about responsibilities dealing with kids. Lets be realistic here, most kids are off the hook at those precarious ages.They will yes parents to death, which is a problem in itself, but to no reasurance, that what a parent has painstakingly taken time to first off diges, second off, see if it meets as a problem in their minds. Which for some it might, it might be spoken about in 3rd party fashion, like I heard about that girl, with out ever thinking, it could be my kid down the road. It is unfortunate, but we live in a very dual society. The minute some one damns something, there it is. If it’s not the sexual perv, or the deviant or the sex party going on, while so-so parents were gone, or some weird school girls, giving b.j.’s on the school bus, then what ever else could be of schock value will and could be. The more innocent your kid is, the more likely they will go out of their way to prove they can be cool to their peers. So what should parents do? well, besides exasperate themselves further? Continue to absorb, and question how things went today at school, anything unusal happen? Wait and see if your kid volunteers to give anything up. If they don’t then assume all is well, until the next episode, some ones Sweet 16? parents home? These are those ages, where the less parents know the better, what a reversal? But lets remember those days, or utter joy so and so parents aren’t home, even though we should have known better, or wish we knew better, I bet we were all there at one time or another. So keep an open mind, set an open tone, and hope to God your kids get the idea, that if they have done the wrong thing, there is going to be some big problem, starting with no phone, a lecture, and constant check in’s with parents.

  11. This should be an interesting subject to cover on Dr. Phil. I’m sure he’ll put his spin on it. But in the end, it’s a waste of tax-payers money and a big joke! Perhaps parents should take away their phones and teach their brats some morals.

  12. Come on people! We are supposed to be adults by now. I do NOT feel it would be right in ANY manner to prosecute any child for doing things of this nature. First it would give them all the wrong self image for life and could cause many different pyscological issues. We MUST understand that a young person does not have a mature mind set until much later in years. They cannot sort out very many if any of the total issues at hand. So PLEASE realize even though they are older children now they still are not grown enough to get all the mature outlook on such things as this.
    If parents are really concerned or do find their child to be involved in this type of thing, at that time the ONLY cell phone they should be allowed to have would be one that was just that: A PHONE! They really do not need a camera or a typewriter with them all day and night. But please do not put them into an adult situation because they really can’t understand something this young.

  13. This country is way to puritanical. Kids will be kids, it may be slutty, but that’s what they do nowadays. Even the ones who have attentive and loving parents! It’s a sign of the times.

  14. To put some kid on the sex offenders registry for the rest of his life foe something like this is insane. Of course a boy who spreads around a naked picture of a girl should get in trouble but not something that will follow him forever, and also have to remember the girl took and sent the picture to him. I think something has to be done about kids sending nude pictures of themselves but it should not be criminal the parents need to take care of it.
    Reading this stuff scares me because I have a 5 year old little girl and whats going to be going on when shes a teenager?

  15. And what if it was your photo they were passing around??? No consequences for that either?? I’ve listened to a young man on TV that was prosecuted for this. He had photos of his girlfriend nude that she sent to him. They broke up and in retaliation, he sent the photos to kids all over the school. Should there be no charges for ruining this young lady’s life????

  16. This is ridiculous. I knew a girl intialled KK,(my grade) who got stupid at a sleep over and she and another girl (SO) took pictures of them selves in a bra and underware. KK went home from the sleep over still fine over what she did because it wasn’t going any where. Later on by accident SO posted them on photo bucket. KK found this by looking in photo bucket for the name Jennifer for one of her friends and saw Jennifer’s profile picture for AIM. She looked at this person who had pictures of all her friends profile pictures. Then she told her friend tht she saw her pro pic and the friend Jennifer saw KK’S bra pictures online. KK hyperventilated. And told S.O. they were on photobucket. S.O removed them later but first guys in KK’s skool saw her. So still to this day she regrets her desicion and thinks about tht time every day. Going to jail is to harsh. Kids suffering embarresment is enough to teach them.

  17. I don’t believe that kids, children should be prosecuted for this. I don’t mind that an adult would do this for any other willing participant, but children? That is what they are and they do not think or have life experiences that adults have to draw from. First Offense should be a warning and maybe some education about the dangers of this sort of activity. The second should be nothing more then a summary offense, one where a fine only is imposed or community service of some sort and more education. Last should be the possible criminal charges, thee strikes you are out! They are CHILDREN KIDS AND THEY DO THINGS THAT ARE NOT ALWAYS SMART OR ADULT LIKE, RIGHT? Why ruin their lives with criminal charges for first time or one time things that happened? There will be schools, universities, and employers that will reject these KIDS because of a stupid thing they did while a teenager. And in no way should a school be involved in this unless the photo was taken at the school, or actually passed in the classroom. These people do not always have the best interest of YOUR child in their minds! Guide and teach them about what is right and safe for them! DO NOT PUT THEM IN JAIL AND RUIN THEIR LIVES!

  18. And what people ALWAYS seem to forget is that even if someone hasn't sent a sexy pic of themselves to a partner, if they ever fall out, there is nothing to stop revenge Photoshopping. Most of the trolls who love to judge and torment people who have been 'outed' with some revenge selfies will not pause a nano second to wonder if the photo is real or not. So, never send a head shot of yourself, never take a selfie with your loved one, in case he/she one day splices it onto a nude photo and slanders you all over the web with it.

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