A proposal before the Connecticut legislature would correct an inconsistency that would allow 12-year-olds who shared inappropriate photos to be charged with felony child pornography, where a 13-year-old or older could only be charged with a misdemeanor crime of sexting.
House Bill 6002 would correct the oversight of the reform bill “An Act Concerning Sexting” passed in 2010 by the Senate and the House of Representatives in General Assembly, and signed by the Governor. The update would simply change the language from those between 13 and 18 years of age, to all children under 18.
Currently, the bill has passed the House (unanimously) and is going before the Senate.
Misdemeanor offenses for those under 18 are eligible to be heard in juvenile court, where options are more flexible and less punitive.
Before this reform, any child could be charged the same as an adult, which classified possession of child pornography by the number of images possessed.
- A Class B felony for possession of child pornography (50 more visual depictions)
- A Class C felony for “between 20 and 50 visual depictions”, or
- a Class D felony for 20 or fewer visual depictions.
This bill is largely just a correction of that strange oversight where it wasn’t considered how many tweens of 12 and under have mobile smartphones and tablets with cameras. According to the Wireless Foundation, 56 percent of children 8-12 have smartphones. Social media and messaging apps like Snapchat, Kik, and many others are widely used by tweens.
But the larger question that isn’t being asked, is what is the purpose of charging this as a crime at all?
What problem is solved by charging teens with a crime for sexting?
Reduced sentencing and juvenile review boards to address crimes committed by juveniles are a reasonable response in cases where kids do cause harm to others. The argument made for this reform and most juvenile justice reforms is that kids brains are not fully developed, and they don’t consider or understand the consequences and risks of many behaviors and actions.
but the larger question here is, should this actually be a crime at all? If a 14 year old sends a nude photo to his or her 15 year old boyfriend, is that really a criminal matter? If there is coercion or bullying, or if that photo is passed around to a wide group of individuals, then perhaps so. But if it is a one to one communication, does it rise to the level of a crime that the courts should be involved with?
Child pornography laws were created to prevent adults from exploiting children. And that makes sense. No one should be creating or fulfilling a demand for child pornography that sexually exploits children and creates tremendous harm.
But if we are just talking about children being children exploring their sexuality, and not harming anyone else, does that rise to the level of a crime? Yes, it can have a damaging life and social impact to the individual kids involved, and should be discouraged and warned against.
But involving the criminal justice system in an often victimless crime is a mistake.