New Mexico's state legislature is considering a bill that would stiffen the penalties for people caught with child pornography while also legalizing consensual sexting between underage teenagers. But that's an unacceptable tradeoff for the state's Democratic attorney general, whose staff walked out of a hearing in protest of the bill's leniency toward teen offenders.
"I cannot support an amendment that weakens protections for teenagers from predatory activity, creates a dangerous new child exploitation loophole, and places New Mexico's federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force funding in jeopardy," said Attorney General Hector Balderas in a statement, according to the Alamogordo Daily News.
The bill is anything but soft on crime. It would impose a mandatory 10-year prison sentence on anyone caught with child porn. But it also carves out a specific exemption for teens between the ages of 14 and 17 who exchange lewd photos of themselves. As one person quoted by nmpolitics.net wrote: "If it's between consenting teens then no, they shouldn't be charged with child pornography. That's ridiculous."
It is ridiculous. It also happens all the time. Consider the case of the Michigan 15-year-old who faced registration on the sex offender registry because he took a picture of himself on his phone. Or the Virginia 17-year-old who became the victim of a predatory law enforcement officer because he exchanged pics with his girlfriend. Or the North Carolina 17-year-old who was accused of sexually exploiting a minor—even though he was the minor.
It does teenagers no good to treat them like criminals—like the very worst sort of criminals: child pornographers—for exhibiting sexual interest in each other.
Balderas believes otherwise. His staff was so infuriated with the lawmaker proposing the exception that they walked out during a hearing Tuesday night.
The attorney general, and those who agree with him, like to think that child pornographers are the greatest threat to kids. But laws that criminalize normal teen behavior—that turn teenagers into sexual predators—are a far more menacing threat. A lot of bad laws are written by politicians whose number one priority is "think of the children!" In the case of teen sexting laws, however, no group is more harmed by this mentality than the children themselves.