Give 'sext' offenders light punishments
With these simple words, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, basically says it all, with respect to the issue of underage sexting: "Kids make mistakes." Up to this point, juveniles in possession of nude photos via sexing have been tried as child pornographers. The problem with this is that it makes no distinction between the threats of real sex offenders and the relative innocuousness of teenagers in possession of naked pictures of other teenagers. There is a huge difference between a 16-year-old boy who receives dirty text messages from his 16-year-old girlfriend and a 37-year-old man in possession of pictures of that same 16-year-old girl. That's why Lampitt's bill is such a great idea.
The bill, which is currently waiting to go up before the Senate, passed the state assembly last week with a 78-0 approval. Instead of seeking prosecution for first-time underage offenders, the bill would make it so that these offenders would have to go through an educational program. The fact of the matter is that an educational program will serve these offenders — we even hesitate to call them offenders in the first place — much better than a jail sentence and registered sex offender status would. Teenagers who engage in the practice of sexing aren't exactly doing anything perverse. In fact, they are doing exactly what teenagers generally do. As long as these messages stay private, there is very little harm. The real problem is when the messages are spread around to people they weren't meant for. An educational course would help to alert teenagers to the possible dangers of sexting and encourage them to really think it through before they go ahead and send dirty text messages to anybody.
Without this sort of program, many teenagers end up being treated unfairly by the law. Some of them end up with their lives in shambles, and there's truly no reason that should be the case — unless, of course, the "sext" messages in question were obtained coercively or spread around against the sender's will. Child pornography laws are in place to protect minors, not unfairly make criminals out of them. "Younger generations are ones filled with people more comfortable with their sexuality and that's okay," Lampitt said. We couldn't agree more. It is time to adjust the laws to this up-and-coming generation's practices. People engaging in sexting need to be educated about their actions, not thrown in jail.