Do law enforcement really charge victims of privacy violations?

One of the main arguments for decriminalizing consensual teen sexting (with age spans) is that it would prevent victims from being charged. District Attorneys and others who are opposed to this change often claim that law enforcement would never do such a thing, so therefore no legal reform is needed.

This 2016 report on on “sextortion” from the Crimes Against Children Research Center provides new evidence that teenage victims of privacy violations (or threats, or other related harassment) are indeed sometimes threatened with prosecution under child pornography laws:

When victims were minors, perpetrators were often breaking criminal laws about the production or distribution of child pornography, but respondents feared they were vulnerable to criminal charges also. Some respondents [victims of “sextortion”] who described incidents that occurred when they were minors had been threatened with charges or blamed. So in many cases described in the survey, perpetrators were shielded from criminal consequences and respondents had little support from authorities. (p. 55)

Some examples from this survey:

“I was the one who ended up getting in legal trouble since I was the one who sent it.” Female, 16, f2f

“I was told I could be held responsible for making and distributing child pornography.” Female, 14, f2f

“The police threatened to bring me up on charges of distribution of child pornography.” Female, 17, online

“My boyfriend sent my whole family and his friends and my friends the photo. [My family and I] tried to press charges [and get a restraining order against him]. Him and I both looked at jail time, fines, and having to register as a sex offender for ‘child pornography’ since we were both under 18. Luckily, the state [did not press charges].” Female, 15, f2f

“I feel really intensely angry that you can get in legal trouble for sending naked pictures of YOURSELF when under 18. You literally can be charged as a sex offender for it, which is so incredibly wrong because I was the victim. All that law does is protect abusers…” Female, 17, online (p. 52)

The report makes this important recommendation for law enforcement:

[A]s with other sexual assault victims, police need to be trained to focus on perpetrator behavior to avoid exacerbating the sense of shame and self-blame that many victims feel.

In addition, law enforcement agencies need to review policies that lead them to charge young victims of sextortion with child pornography offenses or threaten to do so. Such policies, or victims’ fears of such policies, appeared to deter police reporting of perpetrators who victimized minors and increase the distress of victims who felt they could not get justice. (p. 63)

Exciting news! Sexting Panic won NCA’s 2016 Diamond Anniversary Book Award.

Sexting Panic is the rare book that advances scholarly conversations while also promising to enrich family conversations around the dinner table.  Amy Adele Hasinoff offers a timely, practical, and comprehensive analysis of the social understandings that spawned the current wave of public anxiety and legal backlash over youth sexting.  Challenging the prevailing views that young women are inevitably victims of sexting and that new media practices warrant moral panic, Dr. Hasinoff instead offers a more nuanced view of young women and men as active producers.  Informed primarily by cultural studies and feminist theory, her treatment of consent and agency lays the groundwork for more sophisticated, realistic discussions of the ethics of privacy and digital technology.  Rather than criminalizing communication practices based on topic and medium, she concludes that parents and policy-makers should distinguish consensual from malicious sharing of content. Well-researched and engaging, Dr. Hasinoff’s book demonstrates the value of communication scholarship to educators, policy-makers, and technology users of all ages and genders. Already reviewed in eight interdisciplinary journals and the subject of dozens of public media stories, Sexting Panic also exemplifies this year’s NCA convention theme of “Communication’s Civic Callings.”

“Analog sexting”

Joshua Adair at Notches:

Once they have confronted these items from my personal archive, students struggle to deny that my grandparents were clearly engaging in behaviors similar to their own sexting, only using the technology available to them as best they could. What proves most interesting in this interaction, though, transpires when I highlight the absolute lack of privacy inherent in these exchanges. My grandfather, in defiance of censorship, still clearly expressed his erotic desires to my grandmother, knowing all the while they were likely to be redacted. This, of course, raises the question of whether the presence of a third party in this transaction further energized his desire. Gram, for her part, had no option but to take her film to a processor – and one she knew well, no less.

Discrimination in sexting charges

I wish we could trust prosecutors to never use child pornography charges against teens who sext consensually, but unfortunately we cannot. As we know, in 2009, approximately 7% of all child pornography production arrests are teens who’ve only engaged in consensual sexting. How many of those were youth of color? How many were gay or trans?

This recent case in Louisiana illustrates why we need to decriminalize consensual sexting–it’s no surprise that an African American teenage boy was charged here and the white girl he was sexting with was not. Neither should face any charges for consensual sexting!

Read here: “17-year-old black boy sexting with 16-year-old white girl and guess who’s charged with child pornography.”