how do you protect people from themselves?

July 29, 2010

There are very few terms I despise more than sexting, mostly because it’s a strictly media-invented term that lets news anchors and writers use the word sex in tech articles, and partially because it’s one of those horrid and needless amalgamations of buzzwords, like Bloggingheads’ truly monstrous moniker for their debates: diavlogs. There’s so much Web 2.0 jargon in that thing, even Michael Arrington would retch. But we digress because this isn’t going to be a rant about what attempts at playing techie drive yours truly howling up a wall, but the real consequences of having technology that’s way ahead of our laws and what they were intended to police as it relates to sending salacious texts and graphic photos via the web and mobile phones. While new electronics and old habits create plenty of potential for abuse, one wonders whether we really need new laws to govern what we do with our phones and cams, or whether our time is better spent educating those at risk.

You might be aware that states are trying to crack down on digital sexuality when it comes to minors, and going as far as charging underage girls sending semi-nude photos of themselves with possession of child porn using some very creative applications of existing laws. But using laws intended to stop perverts and sex offenders can backfire when they’re used inappropriately. Just ask teachers who were threatened by a rabid district attorney with something written to punish would-be child molesters because he objected to how they would have to teach sex ed classes. Such overzealous overreach can get ugly in cases in which kids make the decision to take less than appropriate pictures of themselves and don’t think about the consequences as they send them around or post them on the web. Sharing too much online is a major problem because many of the users who do that don’t seem to realize just how exposed they are and how many total strangers might see them. While you post a lot of very honest pictures and status updates only after locking down your privacy controls, all it takes is a friend of a friend to latch on to something too honest or too embarrassing not to pass on and eventually post on a site like 4chan. And yes, feel free to shudder in fear because the hordes of 4chan armed with your personal info are nothing to take lightly.

So imagine the shock when someone who makes a bad decision and sends a graphic photo and a string of steamy texts finds them plastered across the web for anonymous crowds to praise or tear down without even the slightest regard for the person’s feelings. You’re now going to charge her with a felony for ignoring how easily privacy is violated via electronic means? Really? That’s the best way some states believe this problem should be handled? I understand when the state goes after kids selling naked photos of their classmates to seedy characters on the web; photos they solicited by flirting and coercion. But to punish kids who don’t know not to send those sorts of pictures is just plain ridiculous, as is setting up laws that would punish someone under the age of majority for sending something a court could fight slightly titillating. Instead, we need to be educating teens that while their blunt, brutally honest, and highly revealing profiles may bring in a lot of views and a lot of fans, filling their need for affection and appreciation during those awkward adolescent years when they really need it, they could also be hijacked by lunatics, perverts, and bullies. That’s something no punitive law could ever teach since it would only come into play after the fact rather than before, when we need it most.

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  • Bruce Coulson

    This is a power/control issue. It has nothing to do with ‘protecting’ children, or anyone else; it’s simply that those who wish to use these laws to control the actions of others know how to get people to support them. Saying ‘WE need to control YOUR kids, and make sure YOUR kids never learn how to protect themselves’ isn’t going to go over well; stating ‘for the safety of the kids’ does.

    Educating children so that they can protect themselves gives those future adults confidence, self-assurance, and a willingness to question why someone wants to do something ‘for’ them.

    Part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them; part of helping children grow up is teaching them how to avoid catastrophic mistakes, accepting that children WILL make mistakes (as do we all), and knowing that you do your children no favors by trying to protect them from life.

  • reggie

    Sex and law in the U.S.! Nothing quite like it.

    Part of the problem I see is in these “no tolerance” positions people, and the law, hold on certain issues. Whether a student expelled for violating a school’s no drug policy for having aspirin or a girl being charged with possession and distribution of child pornography when she is the child in the photos. How about a 19 year old male becoming a registered sex offender for life for having sex with his 17 year old girlfriend? It may not be super common, but it happens and it should not.

    I agree that children who send compromising photos of themselves (and maybe of other minors) should not be charged with a crime. It makes no sense. These laws are made to protect minors under the age of consent. They are under the age of consent because that is the arbritrary line we decided that, legally, they are unable to make reasonable decisions themselves. Correct? So then, if they are legally known to not possess the competence to be a consensual sex partner, how can the law prosecute them for any sex crime, especially one like child pornography? Even if they are not the child in the photos? Does my logic follow or am I missing something?

  • Bruce Coulson

    You are missing something; you’re applying common sense to the law, where it has no place.

    ‘No Tolerance’ laws are a triumph of the law over people using common sense, and a triumph for power/control people. The alternative to ‘no toleance’ is to allow ‘little people’ to exercise judgement; i.e. some local decision-making power. Those who make the laws find ‘No Tolerance’ edicts and their consequences to be preferable to sharing power and decisions to those beneath them in the hierarchy.

  • reggie

    Bruce, you may be right in this case. But I do not hold law in such disdain, generally. Law is much like a sports official whose efforts go unnoticed and unappreciated when officiating a good game, but is quickly criticisized and reviled when a mistakes is made.

  • Bruce Coulson

    The intent of the Law is to resolve the inevitable disputes that arise when living in groups larger than the tribal level. Note that fairness, common sense, or even the truth have no bearing here. As long as a resolution is reached that is accepted (or can be imposed) on all parties, the Law is satisfied.

    Ideally, the Law’s judgements are as fair, even-handed, and reasonable as possible. Unfortunately, when written legal codes came into being, so did ways to either find loopholes in them, exploit them, or avoid them entirely. Administrators of the Law are supposed to be the voice of common sense and reason (humanity, if you will) in the gaps left by written codes. When they abdicate that responsibility, or are forced not to exercise their personal judgement, we get results that make no sense outside of a legal context.

    This is why, to a cynic, the rare times when someone used to exploiting the inconsistencies and loopholes in man-made laws encounters natural law, it’s hilarious.

  • reggie

    “This is why, to a cynic, the rare times when someone used to exploiting the inconsistencies and loopholes in man-made laws encounters natural law, it’s hilarious.”

    Like gravity? ;-)

  • Greg Fish

    … if they are legally known to not possess the competence to be a consensual sex partner, how can the law prosecute them for any sex crime

    Probably because some overzealous judge or politician wants to be seen as “doing something about the problem” and due to his lack of competence or foresight in the matter decides to use a gun where a flyswatter would be more than sufficient…

  • reggie

    Probably so, which feeds back to Bruce’s point, I guess. No one up for election will want to be seen as soft on crime, no matter what the actual circumstances are.

  • EssieKay

    It is the laws that are there to protect us from ourselves, unfortunately the laws are no better than the people making them. People left to themselves will destroy and hurt themselves and one another which is why laws were necessary in the first place. I base my beliefs on Biblical principal. In the beginning…the garden of Eden…Adam and Eve only had one law to adhere to…not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, well even that was too much to handle and as time passed murder came into the picture and God gave man a law against that, and with more passage of time it became necessary for Him to give the tablets from Mt. Sinai. The laws are there to show us we’re sinful so that hopefully we will realize we need a Saviour and we will turn to God, and the only way to Him is through the person of His Son Jesus Christ. You can choose not to believe fact, but not believing doesn’t change the truth. The reason we’re in such a mess today is because so many people try to do things their own way instead of God’s way. Education is good but Christ is better!

  • Jypson

    EssieKay, you are brilliant! I wish I could write satire as well as you, you really nailed them.

    “Education is good but Christ is better!”

    You had me rolling on the floor with that one; I think I’ve even heard one of those religious nuts say something just like that before!

    I also love how you said that people don’t have to believe facts for them to be true, you are SO right. I’m glad to see that you too are bewildered by creationists that choose not to believe in the facts of evolution, basic astronomy, and physics.

    Man, it feels good to know you, EssieKay, don’t believe we are all savage beasts only minding our P’s and Q’s ‘cause we’re scared of ending up in some mythical lake of eternal flames. Those guys scare me too, the only thing keeping them from raping and murdering is the fear of some old book full of anecdotes and fire side stories. Why do you think they can’t control themselves without the help of their “Holy Bible”?

    Pheww, after all those laughs, I need to go get a drink of dihydrogen oxide (lol) for my parched throat. Keep up the good work EssieKay, I’m looking forward to your next HI-larious entry!

  • Bruce Coulson

    Well, I guess according to EssieKay all those people in Israel, Egypt, Iran, China, and Japan are doomed, and their laws are no good and are ignored by the populace because they have no Christian underpinnings…Oh, wait. Those countries do have codes of laws, and the vast majority of citizens obey them, despite the laws (and the citizens) not being believers in the divinity of Jesus Christ…

    Laws are solely to maintain order in society. Defiance of the law is ultimately defiance of the social order. When the law deviates too much from the social order of the time, or there’s a conflict about what the social order should be, problems arise.