Stupid Laws Regarding Teen Sexting and Child Pornography
The majority of teen sexting goes unpunished even if police end up finding out somehow. That’s because police are usually reasonable enough to see, for example, in places where the age of consent is 18, that a 17-year-old and 19-year old sexting consensually harms nobody and neither deserve to be charged with a crime or suffer the stigma of being labelled a sex offender forever.
However, some teen sexting cases are prosecuted as possession of child pornography, leaving teens with a criminal record. This is a completely over-zealous and senseless application of criminal law. If the images are being coerced in some way, that’s different. But I’m talking about cases where police are punishing completely victimless and consensual behavior.
I think one problem with these laws is having a cut-off age to begin with. If the age of consent is 18 and a 17-year-old and 18-year-old engage in consensual sex, is the 18-year-old a statutory rapist? I say no. If the age of consent is 16 in a state with no Romeo and Juliet laws, and a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old engage in consensual sex, did they rape each other? Of course not. That’s ridiculous.
Many countries like Finland actually agree with me on this and have more reasonable laws in place. They stipulate that consensual sex is not rape if “There is no great difference in the ages or the mental and physical maturity of the persons involved.”
Furthermore, teens have been prosecuted for child pornography for merely possessing nude photos of themselves, even when the photo wasn’t sent to anyone. Again, where is the harm?
“But what if the nude pictures end up in the hands of pedophiles?”
If a 51 year-old-man man solicits nude pictures from a 13-year-old girl, that’s obviously a problem because consent becomes very questionable with that big of an age gap. In other words, it’s likely that the girl is being manipulated. But suppose the 51-year-old man just goes online and downloads nudes of a 13-year-old girl that were leaked by somebody else. Is that harmful?
I’m skeptical that pedophiles downloading child pornography they didn’t solicit is always harmful. My position comes from the current research:
“A range of research has been conducted examining the link between viewing child pornography and perpetration of child sexual abuse, and much disagreement persists regarding whether a causal connection has been established.”
Many people who view child pornography also sexually abuse children, but that doesn’t mean that mere viewing of child pornography causes sex abuse of children. Correlation does not equal causation. It makes no sense to criminally charge teens for the mere possibility that their nudes might accidentally end up in the hands of pedophiles, especially when it’s unclear whether there’s even a causal connection between viewing child pornography and child sex abuse.
Purchasing child pornography or funding it in any way should stay illegal since it creates a demand. Assuming one downloads or possesses child pornography without funding it though, the activity may not even be harmful. Police may be throwing pedophiles in jail and ruining their lives for no reason.
I’m confident that large-scale distribution of child pornography is still harmful and should remain illegal even if it’s free as in beer because it gives child sex abusers a place to meet up and share tips and creates non-economic incentivizes to solicit children for nudes. However, if there were a free-as-in-beer non-interactive platform with only fully AI-generated nude minors or cartoon drawings, it’s difficult to see who that would actually harm.
If it were shown that viewing child pornography reduces child sex abuse, acting as a kind of substitute for the real thing, then perhaps it would even be a good idea for the government to set up such a website to deter less ethical alternatives. It would be a “legalize and heavily regulate” strategy in the spirit of harm-reduction. It could even be made explicitly legal for pedophiles to use the site.
I’m aware that this topic is a very sensitive subject and that my position is far more socially progressive than many can tolerate. I’m open to constructive, thoughtful criticism, but please don’t accuse me of defending the act of pedophilia or anything to that effect. If you think that’s what I’m doing, you need to reread this entry more carefully.
For the record, I believe that the act of pedophilia harms children and it should remain a serious crime. Actually my concern for the well being of children is exactly why I’ll support a harm-reduction approach to child pornography if the research bears out that it has either no correlation or a negative correlation with child sex abuse.