When I was a youngster working my way through adolesence, it was a big deal to head off to the drug store and sneak a peak at Playboy and Penthouse magazine. On several memorable occasions, I found the courage to actually purchase copies and smuggle them home. I am grateful I did not come of age during the digital era; I might have done prison time for an out-of-control libido.
This afternoon, I learned of something called "sexting." Apparently, many teenagers now send nude images of themselves to friends. These photos, of course, can be passed along to others. As a result, teenagers are now becoming felons, engaged in the solicitation of child pornography.
Last month, three teenage girls were charged with distribution of child pornography in Western Pennsylvania. They sent pictures of themselves to three male classmates. The recipients were also charged with felonies. And in October, an eighth grader in Texas was corralled by the long arm of the law when a nude picture sent by a classmate was found on his cell phone. Appatently text isn't the only sort of message being sent by cell phone these days.
The National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy estimates that 20 percent of teens will admit to "sexting." Can you hear prosecutors gearing up for this new battleground in the war on lust?
We approach child sex crimes with something akin to hysteria. Zero tolerance, we say. Law makers say there must mandatory prison for all those found in possession of minors in salacious poses. I applaud the desire to protect children, but I wonder whether we're going too far.
There are dangerous sexual predators in the world. No question about it. And those who truck, barter and trade in despoiled innocence should be deterred. But lust comes in all sizes and shapes. Sometimes it is mere curiosity; other times, as in the case of children sending photos of themselves, it is mere curiosity. No every image of a child was captured by an exploiter, and not every person receiving a photograph is a predator.
Prosecutions for sexting look ridiculous. If two high schoolers exchange photos of their respective privates, neither should be incarcerated. It is simply a waste of precious societal resources to punish curiosity.
I don't know whether sex offenders are required to wear special prison uniforms of a given color. Perhaps a new color will be created for these uniforms. Offenders can wear them with a sign hanging around their neck: "I am curious felon."