A Three Rivers, Michigan, teenager is both the victim and perpetrator of a sex crime. He might land on the sex offender registry, and face criminal charges, all because he took an inappropriate photo—of himself.
The boy is unnamed in local news reporters, which note that he is under 15 years of age. He allegedly took a nude photo of himself on a girl’s cell phone. That girl sent the picture to another girl, who sent it to another. Preliminary charges are pending for all three—the boy was charged with manufacturing child porn, and the girls with distributing it. A prosecutor is still weighing whether to pursue the charges.
Hopefully, the prosecutor will realize that pursuing the suggested charges could ruin a few teens' lives. The police detective working the case seems to want to destroy these kids' lives… for the good of other teens, or something.
Police Detective Mike Mohney told WBST.com that sexting is a serious crime because it leads to “bullying,” and “real severe things like people committing suicide or violent crimes against others because they're so embarrassed about it.”
As Reason's Robby Soave points out, Detective Mohney is a walking contradiction. Apparently, it's never occurred to him that bringing child porn charges against these young teens might result in bullying and suicide. Nothing makes the future look dim and hopeless like a long stint on the sex offender registry. Nothing destroys someone's reputation faster than being listed alongside criminals who manufactured actual child porn, rather than just took a photo of their own adolescent body.
For that matter, the preliminary charges make this teen's decision to photograph his own body and send it to another teen a far worse crime than if he'd simply showed up at the girl's house, stripped off his clothes and proceeded to engage in sexual activity with her.
Taking off his clothes at her house would have been nothing more than indecent exposure, a misdemeanor. More importantly, unless the person has been convicted for other sexual-related crimes, there's no sex offender registration tied to the charge.
Even if he'd pursued sexual contact with the other teen, it still would have been a better outcome than being branded a child pornographer. Michigan has no "Romeo and Juliet" law, so any contact between teens -- no matter their closeness in age -- could trigger statutory rape charges. (Obviously, if the sexual activity was not consensual, this would be actual rape, but there's no reason to believe a [possibly] unsolicited naked photo rises to the level of aggravated sexual assault.)
[P]eople who are convicted of criminal sexual conduct based on consensual sexual conduct with children over the age of 13 who are not more than four years older than their victims are not required to register.
And, if the sexual contact contained no penetration, no criminal charges would be brought at all.
[A] 17-year-old who engages in consensual petting with a 14-year-old could not be prosecuted for a crime. However, if the parties engaged in oral sex, the 17-year-old could face prosecution.
So, this so-very-concerned detective has taken a digital photo -- taken by a teen of his own body -- and turned it into something worse than actual in-person nudity and/or sexual contact. That's a pretty fucked up way to show concern for sexting teens. Treating photos taken by minors and distributed to other minors as child porn is the worst possible way to handle a situation that, in all reality, should be left to the discretion of the teens' parents.