Cormega Copening is a 17-year-old from North Carolina who is facing up to 10 years in prison for sexually exploiting a minor--himself. Copening and his 16-year-old girlfriend are legally able to consent to have sex with each other in the state of North Carolina, yet the fact that they sent nude pictures of themselves to each other (or, in Copening's case, kept them on his phone) means that they are now both being charged with a crime.
Robby Soave over at Reason has more:
But first, to recap: Copening and his girlfriend—now identified as Brianna Denson—are like other teenagers in that they have more than a passing interest in sex. Indeed, when they were 16, they exchanged racy sexy photos via text message. Denson sent pictures to Copening, and Copening sent pictures to Denson. It appears that no one else saw the pictures until local authorities searched Copening’s phone and discovered them.
Why did they search his phone? It’s not clear, but local news reports claimed that it had nothing to do with the sexts themselves. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. According to fayobserver.com, there is no record of a search warrant being issued for Copening’s phone.
Both teens were charged with sexual exploitation. Denson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was given 12 months of probation.
Copening, however, is still facing two counts of second-degree sexual exploitation and three counts of third-degree exploitation. As Ricochet’s Tom Meyer points out, the third-degree charges—which constitute a majority of the total charges—actually stem from the pictures Copening had of himself. The implication is clear: Copening does not own himself, from the standpoint of the law, and is not free to keep sexually-provocative pictures, even if they depict his own body.
But consider this: North Carolina is one of two states in the country (the other is progressive New York) that considers 16 to be the age of adulthood for criminal purposes. This mean, of course, that Copening can be tried as an adult for exploiting a minor—himself.
What a nightmare.
While it's generally not the best idea to exchange nude photos with someone, it's absolutely absurd that Copening could be facing jail time–and a lifetime on the sex offender registry–for having racy pictures of himself on his cell phone. North Carolina law makes it so that Copening is considered an adult perpetrator yet simultaneously a minor victim. This is insane. A person is either a minor or an adult. They cannot be both. This isn't a "Schrödinger's sext" situation.
Copening's girlfriend was able to plead guilty to lesser charges and avoided a lifetime on the sex offender registry. (Think about that: she faced a lifetime on the sex offender registry, listed among child molesters and rapists, for sending and storing nude pictures of herself.)
Sure, sexting is bad. But consensual, non-shared sexts between a boyfriend and a girlfriend shouldn't be a criminal charge--and neither should taking a racy picture of yourself. This isn't making the community safer from a sexual deviant--it's potentially ruining someone's life for an act that didn't harm anybody. North Carolina's laws need to be examined and updated. These potential penalties are way too harsh for the "crime."