Sending and receiving sexually explicit photographs of underage children is illegal everywhere in the U.S., but most states fail to distinguish between adult pedophiles — like, say, Jared Fogle — and teenagers who are engaged in sexting, i.e. sending sexually explicit photos of themselves to each other. As a result, there have been numerous cases in which teens engaged in consensual relationships with other minors – relationships which include the exchange of nude photos — have been charged with crimes that come with punishments befitting truly dangerous sexual predators. In states where the legal language is especially vague, like Virginia, North Carolina and Louisiana, these inarticulate child exploitation laws have been used to justify hitting otherwise law-abiding teenagers with charges that could land them on the sex offender registry forever.
Take, for example, 17-year-old Levar Allen, of Bossier City, Louisiana, who was arrested earlier this month for sexting with his 16-year-old girlfriend, technically a minor under state law, and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile and possession of child pornography. The teenage girl, who is white, sexted Allen, who is Black, allegedly including a video of herself engaged in solo sexual activity, and Allen responded with a similar video of his own. Her parents allegedly found the sexts and called the police. Authorities claim to have arrested the girl first, but since she’s 16, the most she could be charged with is a misdemeanor. By being just a year older, Allen, who has no prior criminal record and is a three-sport star athlete, could see his entire future go up in smoke for engaging in the exact same consensual behavior.
Allen’s mother says she believes the Bossier City Police Department is looking to make an example of her son — and that the girl’s parents’ fury that their daughter was sexting with a Black boy in the Deep South may be the fuel.
“A little girl sent him a video, she was 16. He sent her a video and he got charged,” said Allen’s mother, Chasity Washington. “I think because she’s white, the parents got upset that she’s been doing what she’s been doing.”
Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Lt. Bill Davis insisted race isn’t a factor. “I have nothing to say about that. It doesn’t matter what your race, what your religion, what your ethnicity, don’t do child pornography! Plain and simple.”
Recent studies show that 1-in-4 teenagers engages in sexting — that’s a whole lot of “child pornographers,” no? Regardless of what the motivating factors are in the case against Allen, parents of teenagers should be incredibly concerned that vague laws could result in their own children being branded sexual predators, simply for engaging in what is otherwise everyday (mis)behavior.
Back in January, USA Today published a column about the ways in which the justice system has perverted child exploitation laws. Robby Soave wrote:
Proponents of these laws claim they are necessary to protect kids from sex predators. They also frequently insist that teens shouldn’t be sexting anyway, and that there’s no harm in keeping the activity illegal. What they don’t seem to understand is that sexts are ubiquitous — more than half of college undergraduates surveyed sent them as minors, according to researchers at Drexel University. Are these kids taking on some risk? Sure. Should their parents and teachers caution them against sexting? Absolutely. But arresting them, expelling them from school, smearing their names in the news media and placing them on the sex offender registry are all punishments vastly disproportionate to the “crime.” Funneling teens into the criminal justice system for expressing sexual interest in other teens is simply much more harmful to them than sexting is.
AMEN. Besides, wouldn’t parents rather their teens be sexting than, you know, actually HAVING sex, especially unprotected sex that could result in unplanned pregnancies or STDs?