You Mean 18-y.o.s with 16 y.o. Girlfriends AREN’T Sex Offenders?

Hey Readers! Once in a while, common sense actually wins a biggie. That’s what’s  happening right now in Texas, where the governor seems set to sign a “Romeo & Juliet” bill that would prevent teens and young adults who have consensual sex from ending up as official “Sex Offenders,” required to register for life.

Yes, that’s really how the law stood — until now. According to the Star-Telegram:

Under current law, according to a legislative analysis of the bill, there is no such thing as consensual sex with a minor in Texas. Currently, a man who is 18, 19 or 20 in a consensual sexual relationship with a girl under 17 could be convicted of sexual assault of a minor and would be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

That is beyond crazy. That is LIFE ruining — and for what? Who does it help? No one. Who does it hurt? The very people it is supposed to protect: young people.

Thank god the legislature had the gumption to re-introduce the Romeo & Juliet bill, which the Governor, Rick Perry, vetoed in 2009. Let’s give a big hand to its sponsors: Texas State Rep. Todd Smith and Texas Sen. Royce West (one Democrat and one Republican — this is NOT a partisan issue)!

While we are at it, let’s also hear it for Mary Duval, a dogged (and, by the way, blind) activist who has been working for YEARS trying to make our country’s sex offender laws do what they were intended to do — keep creeps away from kids — rather than rounding up anyone who ever had sex at a young age. She’s founder of the extremely moving site, Ricky’s Life,. It was through Mary that I first about how the sex offender laws were catching more than just “the bad guys.” Like a net that catches dolphins along with tuna, they were catching some people who did nothing more than have sex with someone slightly younger, along with hapless humans who peed in public or even streaked.

When the law prosecutes threats and non-threats with equal zeal, something is very wrong. Today, a little bit got righted. — L

Of Porn, Principals and Yearbooks

Hi Readers! Allow me to direct you to my piece on ParentDish today (gotta spread the word beyond these pixels!): “Yearbook Blacks Out Kids’ Eyes for Fear of Porn Potential.”

And that’s really what it’s about: A principal in England ordered the students’ photos disfigured in the yearbook so that no one could cut and paste their innocent little heads onto child porn and post them on the Internet.

Talk about a pervert. Her! What kind of creep even THINKS like that?

And, in a related finding so new and surprising that I don’t even have an opinion about yet, this study came out today saying that in countries that decriminalize child porn, child abuse goes down!

We are living in a strange world. But you knew that. Off to disfigure my darlings’  photos (cause nothing says loving like Magic Markering black bars over their eyes) — Lenore

Sext or Kiddie Porn: Who Decides?

Hi Readers — Today’s post comes from guest contributor Anne Collier, who blogs at NetFamilyNews.org and is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a forum for parents, kids, and everybody interested in safety on the fixed and mobile social Web. Take it away, Anne!

THE SEXT TALK by Anne Collier

Are we turning our kids into criminals? We just may be, thanks to the laws equating “sexting” photos with child pornography.

Right now, about 4% of American 12-to-17-year-olds have sent “sexts,” and 15% have received one from someone they know, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. (Click here for more info.)

While sexting seems to be a  mind-boggling new dating ritual, the fact is: people involved with creating, sending or even receiving a nude or explicit photo of someone under 18 can be charged with the production, distribution, or possession of child pornography. And those could be federal felonies.

What law enforcement doesn’t seem to be considering much – yet, hopefully – is that kids sext for a lot of different reasons. These range from developmentally normative behaviors like “Truth or Dare” games gone very wrong (“I dare you to send a naked photo of yourself to the boy you like” said one 13-year-old to another at a sleepover), to malicious peer pressure (popular boys pressuring shy girls in a “prank,” an incident the mother of one of those shy girls emailed me about), to criminal intent like blackmail. I can hardly imagine anything worse than a shy girl who was pressured into making a huge mistake and then getting prosecuted for producing child porn, can you?

Pew found that the “three main scenarios for sexting” are: 1) Romantic partners sharing images just between the two of them. 2) Romantic partners sharing images of themselves outside their relationship (to show off, or get revenge after a fight, and so on). And, 3) Someone sexting a person he or she wants to get involved with – a “flirting” scenario.

Since most of this is not criminal behavior, prosecution should not be the goal. The goal should be support for any child being victimized. It should also be community-wide learning in the areas of critical thinking, ethics, and civility.

So what do you tell your child about sexting?

If a sext gets sent to his phone, in most cases, he should just delete it. The only time you and he should think twice about that is in a situation where he’s the friend of a kid to whom a girl sent a photo of herself (either willingly or under pressure). He might be able to help keep the photo from going viral by reporting it to school administrators as evidence of something they need to stop. In that situation, your child could really be helping a friend or two by having the school stop the problem from getting worse.

Certainly also tell your child NEVER to forward a “sext.” At the very least that’s mean and disrespectful. At the worst, it could be seen as trafficking in child porn.

And by all means, if you have any influence with your kids, be sure they’re not creating these photos, whether they somehow find themselves in disrespectful relationships or are floating in a “romantic” bubble of denial that says, “Maybe other people would share these private photos with anyone, but we never would.” They must know by now that all digital media can easily be copied and pasted into the permanent searchable archive called the Internet!

But here’s what kids are most concerned about, and rightfully so: One expert at a recent online-safety conference said that, if you peel off all the legal and moral layers in these situations, what you usually get, if not outright cruelty, is the violation of a friend’s trust. This isn’t about technology or something new under the sun. It’s about learning to respect your peers and community online and off

Yes, even when tethered to the 24/7 reality-TV drama that is school life.

Related links

ConnectSafely.org‘s Tips to Prevent Sexting.

* About being tethered to “The Drama” of school life.

* MTV study (released a week or so before Pew’s last December) offering insights on “digital abuse” and sexting <http://www.netfamilynews.org/2009/12/new-study-on-digital-abuse-youth.html>

Outrage #3 (& Then I’ll Stop!): Arrest G.I. For Pix of 4-Year-Old in Bathing Suit

Hi Readers — I am so sick of the endless, misguided, helping-no-one suspicion going on these days that I can barely write about this story, that was just in The Washington Post. Suffice to say a National Guard soldier in Afghanistan finds himself facing a possible 10 years in prison on charges of possession of kiddie porn. What he actually seems to be in possession of are pictures of his friend’s 4-year-old daughter taken at the girl’s birthday party, at which she was wearing a bathing suit. The soldier became close to the girl when her dad was in training abroad and the girl was diagnosed with a serious illness.

That’ll teach him to cheer up a sick kid.

Anyway, the photos were taken by the girl’s mom and by the G.I.’s mom (both hard core pornographers, I’m sure, cleverly staging birthday parties for their own nefarious reasons). And who was it that sent these evil images to the guy? HIS MOM, who wanted to ease his homesickness.

You know what? It probably worked. If I were in Afghanistan being charged with kiddie porn for possessing birthday party pix sent to me by my mom, I just wouldn’t feel very homesick for America. — Lenore

What Happens When Kids Can’t Play

Hello, Readers! We have another guest post today, this one from developmental psychologist Dr. Helene Guldberg, a founder of the wonderful, British, on-line current affairs blog, Spiked (www.spiked-online.com). She’s also author of Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear. The thing I found most shocking in this post is that you can’t even take photos of any kid other than yours at a birthday party in England anymore.  It’s considered tantamount to porn. Oy.

 By Helene Guldberg

Growing up on the outskirts of Bergen, in Norway, I was given a lot of freedom to roam outside from a very early age. Norwegians have a unique, maybe rather obsessive, love of outdoor pursuits and therefore, whether in sunshine, sleet or snow, we were always building dens, playing on building sites, and having all kinds of adventures in the woods or by the fjord.

As Free-Range Kids readers are well aware, children are today losing out on many childhood experiences that we took for granted. In Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear I show how important unsupervised play is for all aspects of children’s development – their social, emotional, cognitive and physical development. Children need to be given space away from adults’ watchful eyes – in order to play, experiment, take risks (within a sensible framework provided by adults), test boundaries, have arguments, fight, and learn how to resolve conflicts. Today, they are increasingly denied these opportunities.

But the blame for this steady erosion of unsupervised play should not be pinned on parents. The root of the problem is not their fears but the fact that parents are continually discouraged from entrusting their children to other adults. In the UK, it is a crime to work with children without first being vetted by the authorities. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, passed into law in 2006, requires that millions of adults whose work involves coming into contact with children must undergo Criminal Records Bureau checks. The message this gives to parents and children is to be suspicious of any adult who comes into contact with young people.

Also, it is almost impossible in Britain today to take photos of one’s children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews in public places if they are surrounded by other children. The rules governing the use of cameras and camera-phones in swimming pools, parks, at children’s parties, school sports days and any other place where children might be present are ubiquitous and strictly enforced. The kind of photos that have traditionally appeared in many a family album are now treated as being akin to potential child pornography.

Ultimately parents will only give children the independence they need if they have sufficient trust in other adults – trust in them not to harm their children, but to look out for them. When we grew up our parents assumed that if we got into trouble, other adults – often strangers – would help out. Today that trust does not exist – or, at least, it has been seriously damaged by government policy, media debate and a rising culture of suspicion towards adults’ motives.

Only by challenging the safety-obsessed culture that depicts every adult as a potential threat can we start to build a better future – and present — for our children and ourselves.
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Dr Helene Guldberg’s book, Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear, is available on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/d2sxgm