Decriminalizing Sexting

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Manassas Case Rekindles Debate Over Penalties for Sexting

The recent efforts of Manassas police and Prince William County prosecutors to photograph the erect genitalia of a 17-year-old boy for evidence in a “sexting” case has revived a debate in Virginia over whether such conduct between minors should be illegal at all . . .

Sexting is a phenomenon that emerged with the digital age, the sending of nude or semi-nude photos via a smartphone. In the “old days” people exchanged polaroids if they could, easier to hide, and to destroy.

If charges are brought, punishment, even for consenting teens, can include jail time and a permanent place on the Sex Offender Database along with all the pedophiles and child pornographers and rapists.

“The laws are outdated and literally make my daughter a violator,” the mother said.

First Amendment lawyers across the country defend these cases and many work on forging better state and federal legislation that would make sexting a misdemeanor with counseling and education versus felony punishments. Some lawyers and some defendant’s parents reject even that notion, positing that teens sexting with their friends doesn’t constitute pornography — that is free speech covered under the First Amendment. But we are along way from this sane point of view in the United States. 

[The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia] opposes . . . any bill that will put sexting into the state  has opposed Surovell’s bill and similar attempts to put sexting into the state code. “We will resist as actively as we can anything that seeks to define this behavior as criminal at any level,” said executive director Claire Gastañaga. “Making it a misdemeanor just invites prosecutions and convictions.”

Another lawyer, Jonathan L. Phillips, who has defended sexting teens and worked on new legislations, calls their use of smartphones, “immaculate weapons of their own self-destruction.” 

A friend of mine, Lawrence G. Walters, Esq., is a nationally recognized expert on the front lines of this issue for a long time, defending cases and fighting to drop or reduce charges and shorten sentences. Click here to learn more.

What’s going on in your state? in your community? Should sexting between consenting minors, or adults for that matter, be a crime? Let us know what you think!

Alison Gardner

Alison Gardner

Alison Gardner is co-founder of VenusPlusX, and writes frequently on global sexual freedom, American fundamentalists exporting hate and homophobia, and grassroots activism.
Alison Gardner