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Curb ‘Sexting’ Among Teens

March 6, 2009
The Intelligencer

"Sexting" seems to have become a fad among some teenagers. It needs to be stopped - but those caught doing it should not be stigmatized for the rest of their lives.

The practice involves sending nude or otherwise sexually suggestive pictures, often using cellular telephones. Once distribution of such pictures begins, it can spread like wildfire. Sometimes, the pictures are of friends of those transmitting them. Incredible as it may sound, some teenagers send nude photographs of themselves to others.

"Sexting" is in the news again because two Warren County, Ohio, teenagers have been charged with engaging in the practice. They have been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel told a reporter she believes "sexting" is "disturbing and serious." We agree. But we also agree with her that charging the teenagers with more serious crimes, perhaps offenses that would require them to register as sex offenders, is not a good idea. Hutzel thinks state legislators should write a new law covering the practice - and presumably take into account that teenage offenders should not be punished as severely as adults.

We don't know about that. Prosecutors have available to them the same tools Hutzel used. They can charge teenage "sexters" with crimes that do not carry the stigma of full-fledged sex offenses.

Teenagers caught engaging in the practice need to be taught a serious lesson, of course. "Sexting" can do terrible emotional damage to its victims - even if they also happen to be perpetrators. It is something that indeed should be handled - carefully - by law enforcement officials. They should send a strong messsage that "sexting" is a serious offense. At the same time, they should avoid labeling foolish teenagers in the same manner as they do adult sex offenders.

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