The fad of sexting among minors can be destructive for young lives. For Margarite, a young girl from Washington, a naked picture she sent to her boyfriend Isaiah would come to have massive consequences. After the two broke up, Isaiah sent the picture to a former friend of Margarite. That friend disseminated the photo to as many students as possible. The former friend and another girl who helped in distributing the photo were charged with the dissemination of child pornography—a Class C Felony—and ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of telephone harassment for their crimes. This event raises serious questions about the implications of technology on social lives.
The actual act of sexting is not illegal, nor would I argue that it should be. For the more prudish among us, the idea of people sending naked pictures to each other over cell phones may seem disgusting; nevertheless, at the end of the day we live in a country that respects the rights of consenting adults to send sexually provocative photos to each other.
The issue, however, becomes more complicated when the question of sexting by minors is brought up. That is especially true in a case such as Margarite’s, where the picture ended up being used as a way to disparage and defame her. The three teens that sent out the picture deserved to be punished for what they did, as the picture still continues to haunt Margarite a year later. She tried transferring schools, but the story of the picture was soon discovered by students there. She decided to transfer back to her original school, where she still had friends. Due to the mass distribution of the photo coupled with the media storm that erupted following the arrests, the event is still known amongst Margarite’s peers.
In the media storm that erupted, the question was raised as to whether Margarite should have also faced legal repercussions for taking the picture in the first place. The local prosecutor decided not to press charges, and I fully agree with that decision. In some cases, the underage minor who took the photo of him or herself has been charged with distribution of child pornography. This seems unnecessarily cruel. Possession and distribution of child pornography has been criminalized so as to protect minors from those who would exploit them. Underage sexting may be stupid, but it seems to be taking matters too far if the child who took the photo of themselves ended up being charged; minors who are the victims of sexting scandals in no way intended to distribute child pornography in the way actual child pornographers do.
In Margarite’s case, she has already had to face social exclusion and cruelty from fellow students. That already is an undeserved punishment for one impulsive decision made in the midst of a relationship.
Underage students should of course think twice before sending a nude picture of themselves to anyone with whom they are in a relationship. That being said, the practice probably will not stop. Only the most idealistic amongst us could hope that adequate education—such as, for example, the public service advertisements the three guilty teens were ordered to make as part of their plea agreement for distributing Margarite’s photo—would bring about the end of underage sexting.
The technological age we live in has completely redefined social relationships in ways that we are only now beginning to understand and address. Sexting is just one of many facets that we have to consider when we consider the behavior of youth in the age of cell phones and Facebook. There are also, for example, pictures from parties that get posted on Facebook that could come back to haunt one if a future employer or college admissions staff member runs a Google search on one’s name.
It is a scary fact to consider that our social lives and actions are now available for others to see in a way that would not have even been imaginable 20 years ago. A simple status update about marijuana is there forever. A tagged photo on Facebook of a wild night of debauchery can be seen by anyone if the proper precautions are not taken. A naked picture sent to a romantic interest can end up tearing your entire life apart.
Cases such as Margarite’s will not stop irresponsible behavior in the new technological era in which we have found ourselves. They do however serve as a grim reminder of what can happen when we make one silly decision. Our lives are now under a microscope and any decision that is made digitally can serve to haunt our real selves for years to come.