Over the last decade, a significant number of minors have been prosecuted for distribution of child pornography. These children were not abusing other children or producing child pornography for commercial purposes; instead, they simply took nude photos of themselves and sent them to others.
Outdated Laws and the Rise of Smartphones
Child pornography laws are designed to protect children. However, outdated laws are now causing significant harm to thousands of children across the United States. In some cases, children who take pictures of themselves are prosecuted as adults. Many of these children face life-time registration as a sex offender for taking pictures of themselves. These life-time registrations will limit educational and job opportunities for these children, robbing them of their lives.
Before the advent of digital cameras and smartphones, distribution of child pornography was often limited to underground groups. These groups operated through phone networks, postal mail networks, bulletin board systems and email. In most cases, the images distributed by these groups involved legitimate child abuse. However, that has changed.
Smartphones and Sexting
Following the onset of puberty, many children begin to explore the world of their sexuality. For most children, puberty starts at age 10 or 11. At this age, many children will begin to flirt with the opposite sex. While sexual activity at this age is never a good idea, it is a natural part of being human. However, it is not a crime.
In the past, underage sex was often a private affair. While a parent may come across a wayward child and a lover, these incidents were dealt with in the privacy of one’s home. A 14 year old might be grounded for inviting a girl over without permission.
With smartphones, many children between the age of 12 and 18 are taking pictures of themselves and sending them to their lovers. While this type of behavior should not be condoned, it shouldn’t be a criminal affair. However, outdated child pornography laws have turned this into a felony.
Children as young as 12 years old have been prosecuted for the production and distribution of child pornography. While these children only took photos of themselves, they are treated in the same way as someone who really abused children. A child may end up in an alternative school or jail for upwards of 10 years.
Fortunately, a number of states are working to change these rules. Many legislators are also working to pass federal laws to protect minors from criminal changes associated with sexting.