CBS This Morning

I was on CBS This Morning today talking about the opposition to Colorado’s proposed sexting misdemeanor bill:Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 8.23.48 AM

I don’t really understand the analogy to voting rights that the anchor makes at the end. After all, it’s not like all teens technically can vote, but then if they do cast a ballot, it’s a crime. That’s the difference with sexting that is so important to understand: one-third of 16- and 17-year olds are sexting, whether it’s a felony, misdemeanor, or not. We have to deal with that reality rather than dreaming that we might bring that rate down to 0%. It’s not going to happen.

Criminalizing all sexting  doesn’t stop it from happening, it just harms victims (because they won’t report if it means they’re guilty of the same crime), sends a dangerous slut-shaming message to girls who sext consensually, and gives law enforcement too much power to police consensual teen sexuality.

Sexual assault is a problem, but we don’t try to solve it by banning all sex. Instead, we have laws that are only against sexual assault. Sexting works the same way–it doesn’t make sense to ban all sexting, we need narrowly tailored ways of addressing harmful behaviors like sharing or creating a sexual image without permission.

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“Teen sexting bill hits roadblock at State Capitol”

A local FOX news segment on the Colorado sexting bill.

The comment at the end of the video about “an opponent said that we don’t ban teen sex outright, so we shouldn’t ban sexting” was from me. This is great because reporters usually don’t cite (either they don’t cite specifically, or sometimes don’t cite at all) the things they agree with. Common sense needs no citation.

Another bad sexting bill, Colorado version

I testified today in the House Public Health Care and Human Services committee (my comments start at around 1:38:00) hearing against a new sexting misdemeanor bill that’s making its way through the Colorado legislature.

The bill would create a new misdemeanor crime (or a petty offense, if an amendment is accepted) for sexting, which has happened already in almost a dozen other states. This is the wrong approach because it means that if someone is victimized by a privacy violation, a prosecutor can still choose to charge the victim with child pornography offenses or can charge them under the new laws instead. Or they can choose not to charge victims at all.

The DAs testifying at the hearing today said that they have not and would not charge victims. They said that we should trust that they won’t. Perhaps most prosecutors are indeed refraining from using child pornography charges against teens. After all, only 7% of child pornography production arrests in 2009 were of teens involved in consensual sexting. So, most prosecutors are refraining. But certainly not all are.

My concern is that if prosecutors have the option to use a misdemeanor or a petty offense, there will be a lot more prosecutions of consensual sexters. Since child pornography charges are so harsh and extreme, most prosecutors are not using them against teens.

But they would, it seems, like to charge a lot more teens with some kind of crime for consensual sexting. It was clear at the hearing today that many people think that consensual sexting is a deviant behavior that can and should be prevented with the threat of criminal charges. It can’t and it shouldn’t.

Hope Witsell

I was particularly appalled at the way people spoke about Hope Witsell‘s suicide. This tragic story of a girl whose nude image was passed around without permission demonstrates the deadly effects of slut-shaming. Yet, people testified that this misdemeanor bill might have prevented Hope’s death.

I strongly disagree with this interpretation because criminalizing consensual sexting increases the harm for teens like Hope. This is because after their privacy is violated, it piles on even more slut-shaming by telling them that their consensual sexting was a crime too. In fact, the law tells teens like Hope that she committed the exact same crime as the person who violated her privacy.

Perhaps people believe that making sexting a misdemeanor sends a message that it’s wrong and teens shouldn’t do it. As we know for teen sex, the abstinence message is not going to work–instead it backfires and creates more risk and more harm. Indeed, the message that sexting is deviant and wrong is going to potentially create more cases like Hope’s, because it tells victims that they are to blame for their victimization.

Victims of privacy violations need our unqualified support. Just like victims of sexual assault, we need them to know that their victimization was not their fault. Only perpetrators should be held accountable for the harm they cause. Laws against sexting–including the existing child pornography laws and the new sexting laws–all contribute to further harming victims like Hope.