FOR THE WEEK OF APR 12, 2010
'Sexting' is lewd and crude -- but should it be a felony crime?
A different cell phone issue involves adults as well as teens. Have you seen news reports or comments about driving while texting or calling? What about coverage of when it's rude to text or talk on a cell?
Electronic communication is widely used daily without inviting trouble. Look for a consumer technology article about something that no teacher, parent or law enforcer would challenge.
Some pop culture items -- such as video games, CDs and music -- carry age guidelines or restrictions. Discuss why a newspaper is different and suitable for readers of any age. How do journalists handle foul language in quotes?
Hitting "Send" or "Fwd" is very risky sometimes. If the picture on your screen is one you'd hide from a teacher or parent, it's probably safest to delete it -- particularly if the content is X-rated. Sharing intimate snapshots from a webcam or cell phone may seem like a lark, but legal authorities typically aren't amused by what's called "sexting."
Some prosecutors treat sharing nude digital images of minors as a serious crime, even if no "victim" complains and the sender clicked an image of himself or herself. Fifteen percent of cell phone owners aged 12 to 17 have received sexually suggestive, nude or nearly nude images of someone they know via text message, a Pew Research Study said four months ago.
Parents and some politicians think that goes way too far. They want to educate rather than alienate. Nebraska, Utah and Vermont have eased penalties, a step 15 more states are considering. "This is a stupid activity . . . but it is not child pornography," says state Sen. Dave Aronberg of Florida, where senators recently voted to back off. Elsewhere, a federal appeals court last month blocked a Pennsylvania district attorney from bringing felony child porn charges against three girls who sent scantily dressed photos of themselves.
Cop says: "Unless the technology is going away, the behavior is not going away. It's here to stay. All we can do is educate." -- Sgt. Bill Fulton, Fairfax (Va.) County Police Department
Law professor says: "While sexting is bad judgment, it's simply not what the Supreme Court had in mind when it crafted the child pornography law. . . . The pornographer and the victim are one and the same person." -- Amy Adler, New York University
Report says: "Laws and law enforcement practices around sexting . . . vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction." -- Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, December 2009
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