Charging children with child pornography... again

This isn’t the first of these cases we’ve seen and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last. A group of idiotic teenagers in Illinois have been arrested and charged with trafficking in child pornography for taking cell phone video of themselves engaged in sexual activity and posting it online.

Four suburban teenagers have been arrested on felony charges, for an explicit video they posted on Twitter.

All four students attend Joliet Central High School, and are between the ages of 14 and 16. A 15-year-old girl and three of her classmates recorded consensual sex acts one week ago, and posted the video on Twitter.

The girl’s mother found out about the video, and reported the Twitter post to police, who seized the original recording.

The four teens were arrested Friday, and charged as juveniles with child pornography.

I don’t have any idea what we’re supposed to do about this as a society. Do we just ban children from having cell phones capable of taking and transmitting pictures and video? It’ not as if we can ignore this completely and pretend it isn’t happening. For every case which is discovered, there’s little doubt that there are hundreds – or more likely thousands – of other incidents which are never identified, and the resulting “product” winds up in the hands of pedophiles.

But charging the children who do these incredibly foolish and reckless things as child pornographers is clearly not the answer. Doug Mataconis identifies part of the problem.

As Elizabeth Nolan Brown notes, the laws against child pornography exist to prevent sexual exploitation by adults. They carry with them harsh sentences and the prospect of being branded as a sex offender for life because of the belief that it is necessary to do this in order to protect children from those who would but them in danger. That’s not what happened in this case in Illinois, or in any of the other teen “sexting” cases that make the news every now and then…

Absent a situation where someone was actually abused, or where photos or video were taken without consent, though, this just doesn’t seem to be something that can or should be handled by law enforcement.

If someone is going to be arrested in cases like this, shouldn’t it be the parents? Once again, this wasn’t a case of rape – even of the statutory variety because of “Romeo and Juliet” laws. These were children doing things they shouldn’t and then compounding the problem vastly by deciding to share their activities with the world. The young girl in particular will have this following her around for the rest of her life, and there was clearly a lack of appropriate supervision and guidance in her life. But to book them on any sort of pornography charge seems insane.

Child pornography laws are in place, as Doug notes, to protect children from being preyed upon by adult pedophiles. These videos are no doubt already in the hands of some of those criminals, but that’s a question of access versus creation. These kids were let down by their families and are now being let down by our law enforcement system. It seems like there should be a better solution to this problem, but darned if I know what it is. The internet genie is out of the bottle and it’s in the hands of those too young to responsibly handle the technology.

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