When Do “Sexting” Laws And Prosecutions Go Too Far?


How tough should prosecutors be in “sexting” cases, asks Emily Bazelon on Slate.com. Anthony Stancl, a Wisconsin teenager, last week was sentenced to 15 years in prison for luring on Facebook, where he had posed as a girl, 30 of the boys he went to high school with to send him nude pictures or videos of themselves. At the other end of the spectrum are a boy, 12, and a girl, 13, in Valparaiso, In., who reportedly exchanged nude photos of themselves. They were in school when they were caught in this new form of “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” How can states draft laws that protect against a Stancl without sweeping in more innocent behavior, like that of the Indiana students?

While there’s no consensus about the right legislative response, the wrong one is becoming clear. Increasingly, district attorneys agree with children’s advocacy groups that hard-charging laws and prosecutions can do real damage. They can land teens on sex offender lists for decades. And they can harm kids instead of protecting them. A sexting crackdown could give a guy who talked his girlfriend into texting him a nude photo a means of threatening her–he’ll go to the police with the photo she sent unless she has sex with him. The harder question is whether law enforcement has any role at all to play when sexting doesn’t lead to a worse crime like the one committed by Anthony Stancl.

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