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OpEd: Malicious sexting is a crime even when teens do it

Using child pornography laws to prosecute cases is harsh. But it will be worth it if it can prevent the victimization of more children.
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Gord Woodward, September 23, 2013 5:19:22 PM

If your teens are under 18, there’s about a one-in-three chance they are child pornographers.

How’s that for an ugly thought? Don’t blame us for it, though — we’re only quoting federal law. The Criminal Code of Canada says the creation, transmission or viewing of nude images of people under 18 violates our child pornography laws. So if your kids sext with photos or videos — and surveys suggest about a third of them do — they are technically offenders.

And ignorance of the law is no excuse.

This chilling perspective is at the heart of a controversial court case in Saanich, B.C., where a 16-year-old teen faces child pornography charges for allegedly sexting naked photos of a girl around her age. The nasty twist here is that the accused is herself female; police allege she sent out the pictures of her boyfriend’s Ex, and uttered threats.

Given that the case has yet to go to trial, we shouldn’t be too quick to play judge. But in the more general courtroom of life, and especially in the wake of the Rehteah Parsons and Amanda Todd tragedies, we should be supporting strict enforcement of laws that protect our children from the intentional infliction of physical and emotional pain. And that includes using the very heavy hammer of child pornography statutes to blunt the threat of malicious sexting (often known as revenge porn).

We’re not advocating locking up our kids for the mindless missteps of adolescence (if those were all crimes, the creators of Facebook and Twitter should be jailed too as accessories); they are the ones who suffer for them. We are instead focusing here on a very specific offence that devastates others: the wilful redistribution of a person’s most private image. And on that point the law is clear: age is a boundary not to be crossed, for any reason.

Send a nude photo of a 30-year-old without her knowledge and consent and you are a creep. Do the same to a nude 15-year-old and you are a creep who should face jail.

Is that too harsh for perpetrators who are teens, a species renowned for poor judgment? Possibly. But let’s remember that the Criminal Code deals with bad judgment only if it harms others. Look at arson, for example. In no sound mind does that act ever make sense. Yet it is committed and, as in malicious sexting, someone’s world ends up in flames.

So society has rightfully decided if we can’t prevent such attacks on innocents, we can at least ensure punishment for the perpetrators. Child porn laws are severe, but will have to do until more appropriate legislation is drafted.

Don’t like the idea of your teen having a criminal record because he sexted a nude photo of a peer? Rather than complain about the federal law and its application, lay down the law at home. Warn your kids about the possible consequences of an act they may well see as harmless. Teach them that malicious sexting is not only despicable, but criminal when minors are involved.

It’s our duty, parents. For while we all have lots of names for our teens based on their behaviour, the one we never want to use is “child pornographer.”

Image credit: Thinkstock

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