Teens’ convictions for ‘child porn’ upheld

Teens and their parents need to know bad things can happen when inappropriate, "user-generated" content is uploaded or sent around unwisely.
by Anne Collier

It's not known how the police heard about it, but two Florida teenagers were prosecuted for taking sexually explicit photos of themselves and "distributing" them in violation of child-pornography laws. Last month a Florida state appeals court ruled 2-1 to uphold their conviction, CNET reports. What happened was, 'Amber' (16) and 'Jeremy' (17) [not their real names] took more than 100 "digital photos of themselves naked and engaged in unspecified 'sexual behavior.' The two sent the photos from a computer at Amber's house to Jeremy's personal email address. Neither teen showed the photographs to anyone else." They were both charged with "producing, directing or promoting" child pornography, and "Jeremy was charged with an extra count of possession of child pornography."

What this case establishes, CNET reports, is that, in Florida, it's legal for two minors to have sex, but "they're criminals if they document it." Criminals, and yet – as the appeals court itself wrote – "children … not mature enough to make rational decisions concerning all the possible negative implications of producing these videos."

Why were the courts so categorical? parents might ask. According to the majority decision, this was "the least intrusive means of furthering the State's compelling interest in preventing the sexual exploitation of children." The court was basically saying that Florida law requires the state to prevent the production and distribution of photos like these as a form of child exploitation, regardless of whether their producers were minors or adults.

In effect, the fact that Amber and Jeremy are minors worked against them. For example, Amber's attorney argued that her conviction denied her right to privacy, but the appeals court wrote, "Minors who are involved in a sexual relationship, unlike adults who may be involved in a mature committed relationship, have no reasonable expectation that their relationship will continue and that the photographs will not be shared with others intentionally or unintentionally." So, the argument seems to be, the court can assume the photos would likely be shared and their subjects distributors of child pornography.

"The reasonable expectation that the material will ultimately be disseminated is by itself a compelling state interest for preventing the production of this material," the majority opinion continued. "In addition, the statute was intended to protect minors like appellant and her co-defendant from their own lack of judgment.

This case is no anomaly; this is one of the key challenges for the field of online safety going forward: how to protect teens from themselves and each other – teens, who – as prominent pediatrician Sharon Cooper points out – are sexually but not yet mentally mature (see links below). Here are other examples, in Connecticut and Virginia in 2005 and in India and New York in 2004; and it was the behavior at the heart of the Justin Berry case (see also this commentary at the beginning of last year's political and media storm against social networking, which – as you can see from the above cases – was not the start of or the only communications technology involved in this children's online-safety challenge).

What can parents do? Aside from the equally important ethical lessons families will draw from cases like these is the online-safety lesson. Young Internet and digital-media users need to know about the four characteristics of online digital media (from social-media research danah boyd at Alternet):

  • Searchability – anyone, friend or foe, can find it.
  • Persistence – anyone can find it basically forever – tomorrow or 30 years from now.
  • Replicability – once they find it, they can share it – in emails, IMs, profiles, on file-sharing networks, etc.
  • Invisible audience – you don't know who you're sharing it with; even if your page is private, you don't know what "friends" will do with it.

Another key take-away: Young people's tech literacy needs the support of caring adults' life literacy as they navigate the choppy, uncharted waters of the social Web.

Related links

"Protecting teen reputations on Web 2.0"
"Children and teenagers who are sexually mature are not yet mentally mature. Most people aren't completely mature until age 22," Dr. Sharon Cooper said at the RSA Conference last week, CNET reports.
"Teenage Brain: A Work in Progress" at the National Institute of Mental Health
"What Adults Should Know About Kids' Online Networking," an interview with social media researcher and USC Annenberg Fellow danah boyd.

 


 Comments or questions? Talk about it in our forum.

 

 

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply