More on Child Pornography Laws Gone Wrong

This story has been getting a lot of press: As in so many other instances mentioned in this blog and elsewhere, a teen-aged girl takes naked pictures of herself and sends them to her friends (or whomever). Then, she gets caught and prosecutors wonder what to charge her with — after all, she did send sexual pictures of a minor (that is, herself), which is a form of child pornography. The reason this particular case is getting a lot of attention is because in Ohio, if found guilty of distribution of child pornography, this girl could be required to register as a sex offender for at least 20 years. However, the judge has discretion as to whether this is the best punishment, given the accused’s age (if she were 16, however, she would automatically be subject to adult penalties — scary). Let’s hope that, if found guilty, the judge shows some semblance of reason and does not force this girl to register just to “teach her a lesson.” I think she gets the picture.

The other interesting issue coming up is how to charge the recipients of this self-created child porn. In this case, an 8th-grade boy was sent to juvenile detention on child pornography charges because a girl in his class sent him (and others) a naked picture of herself. Why this boy was targeted in particular is unclear. But, it brings up an important question: Are these children at fault if a classmate decides to send, unsolicited, an illegal photo of themselves? One day, you — a middle school kid — are at home/on a bus/waiting for class to start, and you check your text messages: Up pops a picture of someone you know, a classmate, naked. You are now in possession of felony material. You had no idea it was coming. What do you do?

This is a very real situation today and we need to talk to our kids about how to address the situation. Clearly, the worst thing these kids can do is forward the picture around or post it anywhere. That can only get them in more trouble. But, if we keep punishing those who do receive the pictures as well as take them, I believe we will decrease the likelihood that any of these young people will tell an adult about them. And that will drive the situation underground and may even increase the market for these pictures so that adults will get their hands on them more easily. And that, we can probably all agree, is something we don’t want to happen.

A Game of Dress-up

Whether it be as a Disney princess in grade school, or as a naughty nurse in college, girls have always enjoyed playing “dress-up.” However, what happens when a 13-year-old “dresses-up” as an 1p-year-old and initiates a sexual encounter with a man 15 years her senior? Trouble.

In early July, Scott Knight, an Aurora, Oregon man was arrested on charges of statutory rape after a 13-year-old girl talked to authorities. After the two allegedly met on Flirt and supposedly talked through MySpace, they then met in person. Knight claims he asked for ID from the girl and then the rest of the details become muddy.

I came across a MyCrimeSpace blog summary of the incident that stuck to the released information, but the comments on the blog prompted me to start thinking, what makes teenage girls seeks out men like this? According to Justine Cassell & Meg Cramer from Northwestern University’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior (who I quoted in a previous entry) most likely this girl has “a greater tendency for conflict or lack of communication with their parents; high levels of delinquency, including committing assault, vandalism or theft; have a troubled personality due to depression, peer victimization, or [has experienced] a distressing life event.” The very first comment asked “what would she gain from setting him up?” A few answers – public attention, “fame” on the news, a book deal, a Lifetime movie even!

I remember being 13 and wanting to be 23, wanting to have an older boyfriend, wanting to be a grown-up; I don’t remember ever thinking that the Internet could be used like this, though. A little part of me is surprised at the lengths this girl would go to in order to make a connection with Knight (finding an internet dating site, getting a fake ID to lie about her age, working to draw in a man who would “fall” for her act) and then a bigger part of me isn’t so taken aback. This girl, rather than turning to her parents (who aren’t mentioned in any story that I can find), she turned to the internet and found adults there.

Is social networking to blame for incidents like this? Probably not. Frivolous Electrical Conversation explains that people blamed promiscuity on the telegraph, the telephone, and even the automobile.

“The telegraph provided users with faster responses to their communication with others, more frequent interactions, and more access to others around the world. It improved access to goods and services, and to knowledge of all sorts. And yet, even while the telegraph (and the internet) led to a revolution in business practices, it also gave rise to new ways to commit crimes, and it was quickly adopted beyond business to the communication needs of everyday people. In the techie magazines of the times (such as Electrical World, the historical parallel to PC Magazine) many authors alluded to a possible loss of a world they idealized, a world threatened by new modes of electrical communication. Media critics of the times described the telegraph as used by ‘talkative women’ who had ‘frivolous electrical conversations’ about ‘inconsequential personal subjects.’ Novels, like the 1879 Wired Love, and other popular culture texts expanded on this theme. The women portrayed in these narratives were näıve and incapable in the face of technical advances, and when they made forays into the world of the telegraph they ended up needing to be rescued, to be protected from technology, in sum. … technical ignorance was a virtue of ‘good’ women. The moral was that women’s use of men’s technology would come to no good end.” Justine Cassel & Meg Cramer in High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online

Sound familiar?

Then we must ask “Who is responsible?” Another commenter later in the list of postings had a very good point; “they are both responsible for their behavior.” When does a person become “of age” for their own personal responsibility? Minors are held responsible for murders, being tried as adults in courts when faced with such serious charges, but incidents such as these are brushed off as solely the adult’s fault. Whether the adult blamed is the minor’s parent or the adult in the sexual relationship, it’s rarely the minor’s fault. Should parents be punished for the behavior of their teenagers? “At what point do the girls have to take some responsibility about what happened?” So, I ask you, “Where do we draw the line when playing dress-up?”

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Media skews portrayal of internet sex offenders

In any given month, the news reports the story of Lacey, a 5th grade girl who was sharing intimate facts (as intimate as a 5th grader can be) with a fellow grade-school student from a neighboring school. Through chats, MySpace and text messages, Lacey and this boy have been planning to meet. After lying to her mom about meeting her girlfriends at the mall, Lacey’s mom drops her off. This young girl is then abducted, raped and then found dead in a ravine six weeks later. Come to find out, this 5th grade boy Lacey was talking to turned out to be a 40-year-old pedophile who had been sitting in the park stalking Lacey. This is the “stereotypical” situation but contrary to popular belief, not the typical cast in the screenplay of internet sex offenses.

Researchers from Crimes Against Children Center at the University of New Hampshire recently published a study showing “most online sex offenders are adults who target teens and seduce victims into sexual relationships.” By taking their time, the targeted youth (mainly female), see the relationship as a “romance” or a “sexual adventure.” Many girls also see this as a healthy relationship with an adult which they may be lacking at home.

According to the study’s authors, educational efforts directed specifically at teens might help them understand the negative aspects and incompatibility of a romantic relationship with an adult online. With frank, open and honest discussions of the behaviors that put one at risk of “internet-initiated sex crimes,” parents and educators may be able to reduce teens risk.

The study also showed that a use of social network sites (such as MySpace or Facebook) do not increase teens risk of becoming a victim of an online sex offender, but it may be the other risky behaviors that lead to trouble. Keeping a buddy list on an online chat program (YIM, AIM, Google chat, etc) that includes strangers, talking to those strangers about sex and “being rude” or “nasty” online (which honestly is quite a subjective idea) were all mentioned as risks. Unfortunately for me, simply writing this blog for you, I have put myself at risk; I’m talking to strangers about sex!

What do you think about the full article? Are you surprised to learn that the media isn’t always painting the “correct” picture?

For more opinions, check out
NetFamilyNews’ ‘Predator’ myths exposed: Study
Infocult: Information, Culture, Policy, Education’s post New study hits internet pedophile fears
Boston Public Schools Myths about online predators post
Perpetual Parenting’s post Most Internet Sex Offenders Target Teens, Not Kids