Putting Teens in Jail for Sexting Is Always Immoral

Laws that deny young people ownership of their bodies should be abolished.



One of the most bizarre teen sexting prosecutions in recent memory became even more awful last month when it was revealed that the detective in the case, David Abbott, had inappropriate contact with two boys, ages 11 and 13.

Abbott killed himself on December 15, moments before authorities could make an arrest. Last year, Abbott served as the lead investigator of a sexting case involving a 17-year-old boy who had sent photos to his 15-year-old girlfriend. The police in that case sought and obtained a warrant to give the teen an erection and photograph his genitals—an alarmingly intrusive measure that seems even more suspicious now that the truth about Abbot is known.

But, as I argue in an op-ed for USA Today, the American public should be outraged about every teen sexting case, because denying young people ownership of their own bodies is immoral—even when the authorities have nobler intentions than Abbott:

Proponents of these laws claim they are necessary to protect kids from sex predators. They also frequently insist that teens shouldn't be sexting anyway, and that there's no harm in keeping the activity illegal. What they don't seem to understand is that sexts are ubiquitous — more than half of college undergraduates surveyed sent them as minors, according to researchers at Drexel University. Are these kids taking on some risk? Sure. Should their parents and teachers caution them against sexting? Absolutely. But arresting them, expelling them from school, smearing their names in the news media and placing them on the sex offender registry are all punishments vastly disproportionate to the "crime." Funneling teens into the criminal justice system for expressing sexual interest in other teens is simply much more harmful to them than sexting is.

States ought to consider laws that exempt everyone under the age of 18 from child pornography laws. The technology might be new, but human nature isn't: Teens are interested in sex, and no amount of moral-panic-induce government interference is going to change that.

Read the full thing here.