Editorial: Protecting our most precious assets with revision to state’s ‘sexting’ laws
There’s a lot to like in CRS 18-7-109.
Recently passed by the Colorado Legislature, the revision modifies state law to offer prosecutors greater latitude in dealing with juveniles who have run afoul of the state’s “sexting” laws.
The revised statute deals with the posting, possession or exchange of explicit images between juveniles. Prior to passage of the revision, prosecutors had but a single option in dealing with teens accused of “sexting” behavior — a charge of felony exploitation of a child — even when such behavior was between consenting friends.
Now, prosecutors have a range of possible responses to such allegations — including a misdemeanor charge, a petty offense or a civil infraction — when such allegations involve juveniles.
It should be noted that the possession of explicit images of anyone under the age of 18 remains child pornography and is against the law, and felony charges are still available with regard to child-child “sexting” behavior, under certain aggravating circumstances. However, juveniles may not be charged with felony exploitation if their conduct is “limited to the elements of petty offense (possession) or civil infraction (exchange)” of explicit images.
The revision also allows for the expungement of juvenile records associated with “sexting” after sentencing requirements and/or educational programs have been completed.
Let us be clear: We do not condone juvenile “sexting,” and we are keenly aware of the negative potential inherent to such behavior. Yet, at the same time, we recognize that juveniles (or, on second thought, let’s just call them what they are, children) frequently make poor choices, and we don’t feel that a felony charge should be the only response available to address the poor choices of children.
Further, we applaud the Craig Police Department’s “prevention before response” policy regarding the issue. We think this is a sensible approach, as proactively educating children about the potentially negative consequences of certain behaviors is a far better course of action than punishing those who have already offended.
But, even as we applaud this needed change to state law, as well as our local police department’s progressive approach to the problem, we cannot help but be disheartened by the very need for such a law.
Today’s children are growing up in a vastly different world than their parents knew. Twenty years ago, the social lives of children was essentially limited to a neighborhood; today’s kids are socializing with a planet. And, thanks to the indelible landscape of the internet, their social exchanges are written in permanent ink and available to anyone who cares to look hard enough. That’s why it’s now more important than ever for parents to keep close tabs on their children.
It is scientifically proven that, in humans, the frontal lobe of the brain — the area associated with higher executive function and judgment — is not fully developed until an individual reaches his or her mid to late 20s. So, we have a generation of children who are inadequately equipped to make responsible decisions interacting with the population of the entire globe.
These children operate under the subconscious — yet erroneous — belief that they are immortal, that nothing bad will ever touch them, that the “private” exchanges they make online with their friends are actually private — or temporary.
And finally, we must be aware that predators are out there, some of them passing themselves off as just another hormonally charged kid. These deviant monsters are smart, they’re cunning, they’re real and they’re after the most precious possession we have — our children.
The advent of the internet and social media — and the more-or-less constant connections they not only allow, but also sometimes demand — have, in many ways, improved the world. But, at the same time, they’ve also made the world a much more dangerous place, particularly for those who are still operating under the naiveté and inexperience of childhood.
So we, as a community, must stand up and protect our children from these dangers, just as vigilantly and fiercely as we’d protect them from a pack of rabid dogs.
Know where your children are going online, and know what they’re doing once they get there. Keep tabs of who’s on their contact lists, and insist that they share their passwords for their computers, their phones and all their social media accounts.
And finally, tell them — repeatedly, if necessary — that the internet can be a perilous place.
It’s not prying and it’s not nagging.
In today’s digital age, it isn’t comforting to know Craig hasn’t yet fully joined the rest of the industrialized world’s instant interconnectedness brought about by fast and reliable internet.