State Capitol News
8:58 am
Thu March 4, 2010

Legal repercussions possible for teen who sext

Phoenix, AZ – Technically speaking, it's already a crime to transmit sexually
explicit photos of minors, whether by cell phone or computer. But
that is a major felony, complete with a requirement to register
as a sex offender. The result is that most prosecutors don't
bring charges against teens who are only sending out photos of
themselves -- or even forwarding what they receive to others. A
measure approved Wednesday by the state senate would make it a
misdemeanor for anyone younger than 18 to send out these
messages. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall is leading the
effort for the change.

(What we want to do is correct this behavior. The way in which
prosecutors get to do that is by having an opportunity to file
charges.)

LaWall said the intent isn't to lock kids up. She said once
charges are filed, then they can be put into diversion programs
that allows them to escape having a juvenile record by going
through some education programs and then staying out of trouble.
LaWall said education is a key component.

(You know, when you ask these kids -- this is very interesting --
would you take your clothes off in front of your friends? They
go, of course not. But what they don't realize is that taking
nude pictures of themselves and sending it out over the phone,
they're taking their clothes off in front of many, many, many
people.)

Put simply, she said many of these photos aren't just kept by the
intended recipients. They find their way onto social web sites --
and more.

(They're being collected -- and I'm not kidding you -- they're
being collected much in the same way that young kids collect
baseball cards. It's become a little badge of honor for a lot of
young men to have hundreds of these photos collected on their
phones.)

When the measure came up for debate Wednesday in the Senate, some
question was raised about whether it made sense to be filing any
sort of criminal charges at all, even just minor ones, rather
than simply counseling the teens about why what they are doing is
stupid. But LaWall said while the activity probably doesn't merit
a felony charge, it does require more than a lecture.

(This is not just stupid conduct. Some of it may sound like it's
stupid conduct. But some of these young girls are being induced,
persuaded to engage in an act that goes beyond just stupidity.
Swiping a lipstick from Target may be stupid conduct. But
sexualizing yourself and putting yourself in a position where you
have this very, very serious sexual conduct is not just stupid.)

LaWall said some teens who find out their nude photos -- or
photos of them doing worse -- are being shared with strangers end
up quitting school in embarrassment. Others just kill themselves.
LaWall said she's not singling out this particular teen activity
for criminal scrutiny. She recalled how a student at a Tucson
area high school decided to streak the graduation ceremony
several years ago.

(Well, we prosecuted him. It's not a major felony. But we held
him accountable. And the school punished him, too. Because that's
not appropriate societal conduct. You don't behave that way.)

Wednesday's Senate vote sends the measure to the House. For
Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.