People of North Carolina: Did you ever worry that your local police and prosecutors weren't working hard enough to stop teenage flirting? Do you ever wish cops were aggressively patrolling for consensual acts of communication? Or maybe you're concerned that law enforcement wasn't swooping in fast enough to protect young people from no harm whatsoever.
Well, if that's the case, you can rest easy tonight. Because the hammer of justice is coming down hard on two North Carolina teenagers who consensually texted sexually explicit photographs of themselves to each other.
Won't Somebody Think of the Children?
Don't worry -- these are felony sex crime charges and the teen offenders were treated as adults. Although, if they actually were adults, the charges wouldn't apply. And if that sounds weird to you, consider that if they had just had sex with each other, there would be no crime. But sexting -- that's when it's time to bring out the big guns. Just listen to the twisted logic of Cumberland County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Sean Swain:
"What we are seeing now is that people don't understand -- it's a big deal when the young lady and the young man apply for a job [and these photos are online] ... This technology and this problem that we're having with this case, we don't know where it's going to go in five years when they apply for college ... We don't know where these pictures are going to go. We're more or less saving the kids from themselves because they're not seeing what's going to come down the road."
That's right -- if we allow these two to sext, they may not get into college. Instead, we need to prosecute them both criminally, guarantee that this incident is attached to their names on the Internet forever, and hopefully attach some form of permanent sex offender status to them in the process. Don't you see how we're saving them from themselves?
If You Do the Crime ...
Beyond the obvious question, "Why prosecute this crime?" there's the question, "Why is this is even a crime in the first place?" As David Ball, a law professor at Santa Clara University in California, told Ars Technica, "It's a canon of criminal law, you can't be an accomplice to an act that has you as the victim -- the problem does seem to be that she is charged with exploiting herself." (She was originally charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, and listed on the warrant for her arrest as both perpetrator and victim.)
The same for the boy involved, who faces five charges, four which are for taking and possessing nude photos of himself on his own phone. And did we mention the only reason officers knew about the sexting was because they searched the boy's phone while investigating a different crime in which the boy was neither a suspect nor a victim?
The young woman already accepted a plea bargain by which her felony charges were dropped, and a misdemeanor guilty plea will be expunged if she completes a year of probation. The young man will appear in state court later this month. Hopefully these two have learned their lessons, and won't needlessly expose themselves to criminal prosecution for a victimless non-crime. All thanks to the diligent work of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office.