The recent furor over “sexting” and the resulting threats from many officials is more than troubling (“Sexting: Did you really want to send that out?” March 23). Sexual offender laws were created to protect children from predators, yet these same laws are being twisted to prosecute the very young people they were meant to shield.
Admittedly, teenagers do not always have sound judgment and make decisions impulsively without considering the consequences. No one will argue young people should be sending nude or semi-nude images of themselves. However, should a young person’s entire life be ruined because they showed poor judgment?
Some law enforcement officials have promised to charge teenagers with felonies if caught in possession of nude or semi-nude photographs, even if the image is of themselves. These charges could include classification as a sexual offender, which would require the child to register with police every six months for up to 25 years. A felony record, especially with a sexual offender charge, will prevent them from obtaining employment in many fields, living in certain areas and pursuing education in some disciplines.
Punishing a child for the rest of their lives because of a careless indiscretion is unfair and a distortion of the sexual offender laws. These laws were meant to punish adults who prey on children, not young people with poor judgment who share inappropriate pictures of themselves.
Parents and schools have an important job in teaching young people to respect the dignity and privacy of themselves and others. Misusing sex predator laws to lock up children in prisons shows terrible judgment, a lack of balance and disregard for their welfare. Rather than locking the cell and throwing away the key, we must engage our young people and speak to them empathetically and intelligently about the pitfalls of sharing information electronically.
American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio