“Sexting” Can’t—Repeat, Can’t—Kill Anyone

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We’re told there’s an epidemic of teens sending nude photos of themselves to a friend or lover, who then sends it to every other teen on the planet. The original kid then responds with naive surprise and deeply hurt feelings.

Adults typically respond with predictions of the end of civilization as we know it.

In Ohio, 18-year-old Jesse Logan’s peers took the routine pretty far. After seeing her nude photo they taunted her and made her life miserable, as only teens can do to one another.

But Jesse went way, way too far in reaction. She killed herself.

It’s tragic, of course. But now her mother Cynthia wants Sycamore High School held responsible. And she wants laws passed to…to what, to bring her girl back? To prevent other kids from killing themselves? To prevent teens from doing thoughtless, mean things? To ruin the lives of those who do?

Sexting didn’t kill this young woman. Teens deal with humiliation and ostracism every day without killing themselves. They’ve been doing so since way before cell phones.

But there are ambulance chasers lining up to help mom. Matt Lauer and the Today Show are giving Cynthia Logan plenty of time to wail on national TV. And big-time cyber-lawyer (her word, not mine) Parry Aftab is on the case, hypocritically blogging that “Sexting Can Lead To Death.” Shamelessly, she invites parents to join (i.e., fund) her organization, to “Help us make sure your child won’t be next.”

We’ve seen this tragedy-grief-media-law circus before, featuring John Walsh, Marc Klaas, Richard and Maureen Kanka, and others who are now household names.

Each parent experienced a horrible tragedy—and then turned not resolving their grief into a career. Dozens of media appearances led to undeserved seats at America’s legislative tables.

In a macabre twist of sadism, parents like these “honor” their dead child by burdening the rest of us with medieval laws that don’t make anyone safer, and wouldn’t have prevented their own child’s abduction. These laws (Adam Walsh Act, Megan’s Law, Amber Alert, etc.) make life miserable for many innocent people, spend enormous amounts of public money, enhance the “predator around every corner” industry, and frighten Americans into thinking their kids are far more vulnerable than they really are.

Tragedy makes bad law. Tragedy + Sex + Kids + Money makes really bad law.

So I predict we’ll soon hear about Jesse’s Law, which will make lifelong sex offenders out of every kid who takes, sends, or receives a nude photo of another kid. This won’t make anyone safer—but it will ruin the lives of thousands and thousands of normal, healthy kids with poor judgment. Teens in Greensburg, PA, Fort Wayne, IN, and a dozen other cities are now life-long criminals. For childish pranks.

Arresting these kids for the creation, possession, or distribution of child pornography is a perversion of the law. It turns the 15-year-old who poses into both a victim and a perpetrator (what kind of law does that?). It defines a stupid boyfriend as a snarling predator.

And by watering down the definition of “child pornography,” it undermines our attempts to reduce the actual sexual exploitation of children, and to catch and treat those who would really harm our kids. Real child pornography is a record of child abuse. “Sexting” is a record of adolescent hijinks. Lumping the two together reflects adult anxiety about young people’s sexuality, not a sophisticated understanding of it.

And what about the supposed “dangers” of “sexting”? School counselors, police, even Bill O’Reilly all agree that kids’ lives could be ruined—by insane laws making them lifetime criminals, not by any actual harm. “These photos will be on the internet forever,” we’re warned—yes, and quickly forgotten. And in twenty years, everyone’s physician, accountant, and local sheriff will have nude photos of themselves somewhere on the web. Welcome to the 21st century.

Ironically, the campaign against “sexting” holds kids to a higher standard of judgment than adults. With adults, we generally don’t criminalize poor judgment unless it involves coercion or demonstrable harm. If you take nude photos of your wife, and send them to her friends the day after your divorce, she can call you a bastard (which you would be), but she can’t sue you. She certainly can’t get you on a sex offender registry that lumps you in with rapists and child molesters. But that’s what angry adults like Cynthia Logan want.

Logan represents The American Way: turning her child’s death into an industry, calling it a social problem, demanding we recognize this as a crisis. If she spends enough time developing her new brand, she’ll never have to come to terms with Jesse’s death and get on with her own life.

Kids’ sexuality being so much scarier to American society than adults’, we again show that when necessary, we will destroy teens’ lives to save them.

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