As technology advances at practically the speed of light, people find new ways to abuse it, and government struggles to make sure laws keep up with new problems
The last movie I saw in the theater, a forgettable sex farce called "The Bounty Hunter," was made even more unpleasant by several rows of pre-adolescent girls whose cell phones never stopped glowing.
They were texting each other throughout the entire movie.
I guess it is a sign of my age, but texting has never appealed to me. I think it is the size of the tiny keys in combination with my large thumbs that makes it more of a chore than a method of communication.
I guess it is also my age that made me surprised at the growing fad of "sexting." For those as clueless as myself, that is the act of sending nude or suggestive pictures of oneself via cell phone to friends.
Ah, the wonders of technology!
A survey sponsored by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that almost 20 percent of teens aged 13 to 19 had sent nude pictures of themselves via cell phone. Additionally, 39 percent of teens had sent sexually explicit text messages over their phones.
Now you might write this off as kids just being the hormone charged creatures they are, but here’s the rub (no innuendo intended): Sending nude photos of kids who are underage over the airwaves is considered child pornography, and if it is intercepted by an irate parent, serious consequences can result.
Child pornography is considered a felony "sex crime" and as such it puts the person who committed it into a sex offender registry.
Putting a teenager who made a silly mistake into a category of felons who will carry a lifetime stigma as a sex offender seems silly, but it is a tragic reality. The problem is especially relevant to the LGBT community, since many teens first explore their sexuality online and, more and more, on the phone.
Judges and local officials seeking to show that they are "tough on sex criminals" have passed draconian statutes that lump anyone guilty of a "sex crime" in the same boat. That is a dangerous trend.
ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, "Criminalizing our children for a foolish mistake does little to prevent future occurrences and may harm a child’s life permanently.
"Various officials have considered charging students with felonies and misdemeanors that carry penalties and stigmas that they will endure well into their adult lives. Instead of seeking to punish these young people, we must work compassionately to help them understand the gravity of their actions and their effect on others."
Now don’t get me wrong: I am not saying we need to eliminate the laws governing distribution of child pornography. But I do believe we need to re-examine them and make sure we are not inadvertently using them to set a trap for underage kids who make a stupid mistake.
For example, according to a recent report in the New York Times, a 14-year-old girl in New Jersey was arrested for child pornography because she posted explicit photos of herself on MySpace.
In 2009, Nebraska, Utah and Vermont changed their laws to lessen penalties for teenagers who engage in sexting, and several more states are looking into it as well.
Meanwhile here in the great state of Texas, our Attorney General Greg Abbott, announced the state will now prosecute teens found with nude or semi-nude images of classmates, with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
To quote Abbott, "The owner of a computer or cell phone containing pictures of nude or semi-nude minors can be investigated and prosecuted on felony child pornography charges."
So while other states move into the 21st century, willing to carefully and thoughtfully examine the challenges posed by new technology, here in Texas we have decided that "them new-fangled gadgets are just another way to git yerself threwed in the calaboose."
So what can we do about this? Well, talk about it to your friends for starters, and then vote the idiots like Greg Abbott out of office! His term expires this year — hint, hint.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 26, 2010.
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