“Sexting” is, in one sense, just the latest titillating diversion offered by the mainstream media. ABC news labels it a “dangerous new teen trend.” Prosecutors, eager to “protect public morality,” have jumped into the fray, indicting 14-year old girls on child pornography charges–for taking pictures of themselves, naked or sometimes in “training bras” and panties, and sharing them with their friends–they’re not selling them, folks, come on! Show a little humor and common sense about silly kids! A teenager who sent out pictures of herself in a two-piece bathing suit was indicted along with her more revealing friends, because the prosecutor found her pose “suggestive,” conveniently ignoring the participation of his own perception in this finding.
The ACLU, bless its heart, has gone to bat for some of these poor kids and their parents, but others have been easier to intimidate and not so lucky. Teenagers are being labeled “sex offenders,” or forced into “re-education programs.” On which side of the Iron Curtain did we last hear that phrase? Can you say, “sex crimes,” boys and girls?
I don’t understand why teenagers’ willingness to trade in nude or suggestive pictures of themselves should come as a shock to anyone. AsWE mammals, we are “sexually mature” from about the age of 13 on, and especially at this young age are driven more by hormonal urges than by the wisdom that only comes with experience and maturity. Unless we find a way to genetically modify ourselves and delay an interest in sexuality until children reach “the legal age,” this will continue to be the case, just as it always has been. Kids have always played truth or dare; the only difference is that, with widespread (pardon the punf digital photography, it’s easier to make–and share–a record of one’s daring behavior. Hey, sharing pictures is a whole lot “safer” than actually playing show-me-yours-and-I’ll-show-you-mine face to face.
The prosecutors and District Attorneys are right about one thing: there is child abuse going on here, but they are the ones abusing these children. The children are just being human. Often enough, the pictures they have taken simply mimic images they have seen in the mainstream media. Are the prosecutors going to bust Victoria’s Secret for putting the kids up to it?
Perhaps the strategy behind this prosecutorial misconduct is to intimidate these kids and their friends into toeing some religion-dictated moral line to ensure that a certain, very straightlaced standard is maintained, but I have a feeling this strategy will backfire. For one thing, we’re not supposed to use the law to enforce religious doctrine–granted, that’s widely ignored. From the kids’ point of view, these “authority figures” are humiliating them and making assholes of themselves, and the next generation will remember that and carry it into their adult lives. Sooner or later, these kids and their friends will be responsible adult voters, and you can bet they will remember how they were treated and how it felt and, other than the few who succumb to brainwashing, they will want to make sure that ITnever happens to their kids. (Assuming, of course, that our political system continues more or less as is for another generation or so–well, let’s assume that, OK?)
One thing that this kind of prosecutorial misconduct reveals is the faulty, adversarial nature of our so-called “justice” system. Like the many death row inmates who have been exonerated by DNA evidence, these kids have been railroaded by a system geared to “fight crime” that uses only very blunt instruments to do so, and that tends to reward prosecutors for convictions, whether they are justified or not. Sure, the Florida boy who responded to an argument with his girlfriend by emailing nude pictures of her to her entire family was a jerk, but labeling him a sex offender seems to me to be an entirely inappropriate response. A saner way to deal with children and families who feel violated by sexting would be through victim-offender reconciliation programs, which operate in many locales, including here in Nashville, and look at the question of what the offender can do to make it up to the victim, which generally does not involve jail time In many of these “sexting” situations, the “offenders” and the “victims” are the same person, and the question becomes, “is this really a ‘crime’?”
As I said above, I think a lot of what kids are doing is echoing the sexualized society they are growing up in, and this is an issue we need to address, too, but not by prohibiting sexually charged images. Besides, sexual charge is very much in the eye of the beholder, MR. PROSECUTOR.
I see our cultural obsession with sex at two levels: the first is that, because reproduction is a drive basic to our mammalian nature, flaunting images of studly guys and willing women with wide hips and large mammary glands is a very good way to get peoples’ attention if you’re trying to sell a product. The other, deeper level, is that the promise of intimacy implied by these images is so compelling to us because we feel its lack so severely so much of the time. All this public display of sexuality is balanced, in a weird way, bywidespread inner feelings of alienation and isolation, as the economic matrix that drives our country shunts us further and further from both real, meaningful human interaction and satisfying, meaningful work experiences. That’s the real solution to the real problem. Concern over “sexting” is just a symptom.
If we manage to turn this around voluntarily, so much the better for us, and coming generations. In a saner society, neither we nor our children would be neuroticized into an unhealthy preoccupation with sex. If collapse overtakes us before we correct our unbalanced eroticism, we will go back to being far too busy to indulge in it, and nobody will have cell phones, digital cameras, or the internet anyway. I’m voting for the gentler path.
music: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It”
Leonard Cohen, “Story of Isaac”