And then there was the story (which I documented here) of Jessie Logan, the young woman who ended up committing suicide last year after being severely harrassed and bullied by her classmates after one of her nude photos ended up being "sextexted" over the Internet. That particular case has been unsurprisingly exploited by the dominant MSM and by "child security experts" as a crutch to ban "sexting" as a means of "protecting children" from the apparent harm of sexual images.
Fortunately, though, saner and less ideologically motivated voices have come forth to debunk the scare tactics and excessive panic over teen "sexting". Dr. Marty Klein, the emminent sex therapist and social commentator, has recently come forth (via here, h/t to Aspasia at LaLibertine's Salon) )to defend "sexting" as a form of simple adolescent human interaction that should not be prosecuted.
Arresting these kids for the creation, possession, or distribution of child pornography is a perversion of the law. It turns the 15-year-old who poses into both a victim and a perpetrator (what kind of law does that?). It defines a stupid boyfriend as a snarling predator.
And by watering down the definition of “child pornography,” it undermines our attempts to reduce the actual sexual exploitation of children, and to catch and treat those who would really harm our kids. Real child pornography is a record of child abuse. “Sexting” is a record of adolescent hijinks. Lumping the two together reflects adult anxiety about young people’s sexuality, not a sophisticated understanding of it.
And what about the supposed “dangers” of “sexting”? School counselors, police, even Bill O’Reilly all agree that kids’ lives could be ruined—by insane laws making them lifetime criminals, not by any actual harm. “These photos will be on the internet forever,” we’re warned—yes, and quickly forgotten. And in twenty years, everyone’s physician, accountant, and local sheriff will have nude photos of themselves somewhere on the web. Welcome to the 21st century.
Ironically, the campaign against “sexting” holds kids to a higher standard of judgment than adults. With adults, we generally don’t criminalize poor judgment unless it involves coercion or demonstrable harm. If you take nude photos of your wife, and send them to her friends the day after your divorce, she can call you a bastard (which you would be), but she can’t sue you. She certainly can’t get you on a sex offender registry that lumps you in with rapists and child molesters. But that’s what angry adults like Cynthia Logan want.
And this week, the alternative online daily CounterPunch posted an essay by author David Rosen which basically repudiates the entire argument for censoring "sexting" on its face, as well as dissecting concerns about the Obama Administration adopting such censorship. An excerpt:
These are but a few examples of a new and growing social phenomenon known as sexting. Adolescents are sending and receiving explicit snapshots or video clips of themselves or other teens from their cellphones or handheld PDAs like a Blackberry. The original image is then often resent to an ever-expanding universe of viewers.
Sexting is a post-modern form of flirting, a game of sexual show-&-tell; so far, it hasn’t involved sexual predators. A recent study indicates that one in five teens have either sent or received such images. [see “Nails in the Coffin: Last Gasps of the Culture Wars?,” CounterPunch, January 30-February 1, 2009]
What makes these incidents most troubling, especially the ones on the Cape and in Greenburg-Salem, is that the participants can face felony child pornography charges. The Greenburg girls, who are 14- and 15-years and allegedly took nude or semi-nude photos of themselves, face charges of manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography; and the boys, who are 16- and 17-years and distributed the images, have been charged with possession.
Each generation re-imagines the erotic. In this process, notions of the pornographic or the obscene are challenged and changed. And in the process, the generation is changed, its erotic sensibility remade, thus shifting the sexual landscape. The eroticism of today’s teens is not that of their grandparents, let alone their parents.
Today’s popular culture is based on aesthetically rich, Web 2.0 digital connectivity. This digital culture engenders a new erotic sensibility. CDs and streaming video extend traditional forms of erotic representation of a book or a film-TV program. Web 2.0 social networking opens communications to two-way exchanges, group associations and shared experiences. Sexting extends the functionality of mobile communications by adding images and, in the process, expands popular erotic sensibility.
The entire essay is a rich history of how sexual imagery and media is transformed through technology and personal demand, and how attempts to control and/or censor such media simply end up being as much ineffective as it is damaging to the principles of free speech and expression.