Teens, sex, and social media. It’s a combination that understandably makes many adults really anxious. Unfortunately, when adults get anxious their reactions are often counterproductive to addressing the problem they’re trying to solve. Consider the following: should an 8th grade girl who sends a topless picture to a guy she has a crush on have to serve prison time? Should a boy who sends a picture of his genitals to his friend as a joke be registered as a sex offender?
HR 1761 has just passed the House and is now in the Senate: Its purpose is to “amend title 18, United States Code, to criminalize the knowing consent of the visual depiction, or live transmission, of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, and for other purposes.” Under the law, the defendant must serve a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison, even if the attempt wasn’t completed, and be placed on the sex offenders registry for life.
The bill is intended to stop child pornography. Obviously a good thing. But this bill treats a child molester who takes, solicits, or has possession of a sexually inappropriate picture of a minor the same as a fifteen year old girl who sends a picture of herself in her bra and underwear to her crush.
Our job at Cultures of Dignity is to understand the experiences of young people and give them the best tools to navigate their social lives with their dignity intact. Simultaneously, we hold adults accountable to be credible authority figures and stewards of young people’s emotional and physical well-being.
This bill is a perfect example of an adult’s good intention gone sideways.
As Rep. Mike Johnson (LA), the legislator who drafted the law, puts it, “The Protection Against Child Exploitation Act is a common-sense step to better protect our children from depraved sexual predators.”
The vast majority of teens are not depraved sexual predators. They are young people coming into their sexuality in a time where they have the means to display that sexuality publicly. So whether we like it or not, it’s not uncommon for young people to send sexually “inappropriate” pictures to their peers. It’s not unusual for a boy to send a picture of his genitals to a friend for no “real” reason. And it’s really not unusual for young people to ask each other for sexy pictures. We understand why adults don’t want young people sending these kinds of pictures but it’s dangerous and unethical for lawmakers to write and pass laws that can’t tell the difference between a sexual predator and a young person who is going through adolescence.
We understand why adults don’t want young people sending these kinds of pictures but it’s dangerous and unethical for lawmakers to write and pass laws that can’t tell the difference between a sexual predator and a young person who is going through adolescence.
What’s even more frustrating is that Congress rejected Rep. Jackson Lee proposed amendment to ensure minors are not punished as sex offenders.
Of course if it passes the Senate, the law will be sent to our current President; a man who boasted about grabbing women’s genitals–in real life. Consider that under HR 1761 a teen boy goes to jail for merely asking for a naked picture, even if he gets rejected, while Brock Turner, the young man who was indicted on more than one charge of rape in 2015, was given a sentence of six months in jail and excused by the judge.
At Cultures of Dignity, we believe young people must have rules and be held responsible for using social media ethically but rules need to make sense. We can’t hold young people accountable more severely than we hold adults. If anything, we should assume that adults have the maturity to be more responsible for their actions than impulsive teens.
So we ask that our leaders to have the maturity to admit that they have made a mistake and make laws that protect young people instead of targeting them as criminals.