When the subject of a "sexting" is famous, the image often ends up on the Internet. A nude photo of Vanessa Hudgens, the teenaged female star of Disney's "High School Musical" movies, went from private e-mail to Internet sensation.
It can even end in suicide. People magazine reported that last year, Jessie Logan, a senior at a Cincinnati-area high school, took a nude photo of herself and sent it to a boy she was dating. She then learned the photo was being distributed at four area high schools. Other students began taunting her as a "whore." She hanged herself.
People's article on "sexting" cited the case of two 14-year-old boys in Massachusetts who received a photo of a 13-year-old girl exposing a breast. Parents were shocked that authorities were weighing child-pornography charges. Said one father: "What they did was wrong, but did they know it was wrong? ... These are 14-year-old kids with 14-year-old minds, not adults."
Once parents get over the idea of seventh-grade girls flashing their private parts for the camera, it's clear that teenagers are not identical to adults who would prey on a 13-year-old. It's shocking to imagine ending up on the wrong side of the law by merely receiving an unsolicited pornographic image. Authorities aren't convicting children, but using the law as a teaching tool and trying to put a stop to a toxic new trend.
It's obvious that some experts will be quoted to defend it. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found Texas A&M professor Christopher Ferguson, who called the trend unwise, but "We would have done it, too, if we would have had the cool phones. We didn't do it because we didn't have the technology."
The same goes for defense attorneys. Public defender Dante Bertani protested a case of "sexting" teenagers in Greensburg, Pa.: "Law enforcement gets carried away with what they believe is their duty to find everyone who spits on the sidewalk guilty of murder."
Bertani must not have heard of the Cincinnati suicide. He failed to acknowledge that spit on the sidewalk evaporates, but pornographic images can hang around forever on the "cool phones" and the Internet. Prosecutors and parents alike are correct to put the brakes on this mistake wherever it's discovered.
The civil libertarians may wish to reconsider their position. They claim it's a private matter best resolved by parental responsibility. Would it follow that their parental irresponsibility should make the parent the legally liable party?