‘Sexting’ gets teens on sex offender registry

by Stacey Oparnica

Artwork courtesy of Tammi Kendrick
Artwork courtesy of Tammi Kendrick

Anxious and uncertain, a 17-year-old girl stands naked in front of her bedroom mirror. She takes out her cell phone, adjusts it accordingly and snaps a picture. Does it look OK? Browsing through her contacts, she clicks the name of the older guy she’s been seeing for several months and attaches the image. Am I really about to do this? “Your message has been sent.” A single thought races through her head, “I hope I don’t regret this.”

Now picture an older man — late 50s, never been married, lives alone. His living room TV is the only thing illuminating his darkened house. It’s blaring the piercing cries of an AMBER Alert. Missing child. The boy is 5 years old, has dark, straight hair and was last seen with his mother at a public park. His name is Elliot. The man stares blankly at the TV screen for a few seconds before looking to his right. A young boy lays unconscious on the living room floor. Finally, another victim. The man lets out a deep sigh as a delighted grin slowly creeps across his face. Eight years in prison. It’s been so long. “Elliot,” he whispers.

Let’s stop there.

Clearly, what we have here are two completely different scenarios; so different, in fact, you would never think for a second this naïve teenager and this heinous pedophile would ever have anything in common. However, as soon as the girl engaged in a process commonly known today as “sexting,” she risked facing catastrophic legal consequences similar to those of pedophiles and rapists. Two words: child pornography. For example, if a teenage girl younger than the age of 18 — the minimum age to legally consent to sexual activity in California — willingly takes and sends a sexually explicit photo of herself, she can then be charged for possessing and distributing child pornography, even though the pictures are of herself.

Essentially, a minor in this situation is regarded as both the victim and the perpetrator of the same crime. While the law itself had good intentions, aiming to protect the community from revolting sex offenders, the way it is being applied to “sexting” is completely unreasonable, especially considering the consequences. Convicted teens can be forced to serve prison time, and register as a sex offender. I repeat, sex offender. Let the extent of those words and their denotation really sink in. It’s a sensitive grey area, but it needs to be addressed. These minors, although naïve and oblivious to the consequences that accompany “sexting,” are in no way, shape or form comparable to a perverted, disturbed adult who gets off on illicit pictures of children.

Let me paint a realistic picture. Several weeks ago in Indiana, a 36-year-old Indiana man was sentenced to 113 years in the Department of Correction for sexually abusing five children. The oldest victim was 10 years old. The youngest victim was 3 years old. Earlier this month in Florida, a 57-year-old man was arrested for paying an accomplice to bring a 13-year-old boy into his hotel room so he could film the child performing sexual acts. His accomplice participated as well, and faces the same charges. Another incident several weeks ago involved the arrest of Canada resident Raymond Lindsay, a 57-year-old who admitted to sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl. Lindsay, who is a repeat offender, has molested at least four other young girls.

My point in filling your head with these horrific yet very real incidents is to remind you of what a true sex offender is. For a careless and irresponsible teenager to be deemed as dangerous as one of these sickening perverts only discredits and desensitizes the severity of the sex offender registry. The nauseating and abhorrent acts these deranged people commit are far beyond our scope of comprehension and make them worthy of the title and the shame. How does a naïve 17-year-old girl who made a careless mistake compare?

–Stacey Oparnica is a journalism sophomore.

–The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.