Nude MySpace Photos Put Teen at Risk for Sex Offender Status

Filed under: In The News

girl working at laptopIn a toxic mix of social media and impulsive behavior, a teenager who posted explicit nude photographs of herself on MySpace is facing child pornography charges that could force her to register as a sex offender -- a label she would carry for the rest of her life.

The 14-year-old Clifton, N.J. girl allegedly posted the pictures for the viewing pleasure of her boyfriend, according to the Passaic County Sheriff's Office. The girl, whose name is not being released because of her age, was arrested last week and charged with possession of child pornography and the distribution of child pornography. Authorities have released her to her mother's custody.

Investigators are also looking at several other individuals who "knowingly" committed a crime in regard to this incident.

The arrest came after the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tipped off a state task force, which in turn notified the sheriff's office. Nationwide, prosecutors are pursing child porn cases resulting from the transmission of nude photos by kids, using cell phones and emails. However, this could be the first case resulting from a teen posting on a social-networking site.

If the girl is convicted of the distribution of child pornography, she faces up to 17 years in jail; she would also be forced to register as a sex offender under New Jersey's Megan's Law. Maureen Kanka, whose daughter, Megan, is the law's namesake, said that the girl should not be charged. Instead, she says, the girl should seek counseling.

Illinois attorney Rayne Devivo says that if the case meets the letter of the law, then the girl can certainly be charged and tried for the offense. She adds that state lawmakers can write an amendment to the law.

"The law is written and voted on by legislators who represent the people of New Jersey," she explains. "If the people of New Jersey feel this case should be an exception, then they will write their legislators and an amendment can be made."

Devivo adds that state laws regarding convicted sex offenders are often severe, and if the girl is convicted, she faces long-standing stigma. "Depending on the state, sex offender registries can have draconian consequences, including being banned from living with your family if the family lives within 500 to 2,500 feet of a school, daycare, or park," she says. "A sex offender may also have to disclose their status on any job application for as many as ten years, making a youthful indiscretion become a longstanding economic burden."

It's hard to believe that New Jersey will pursue this case to the full extent of the law, but it certainly has the option to do so. No one believes in freedom of speech more than I do, but perhaps it is time to create a new set of laws that pertain to these specific acts, rather than pursuing charges under laws meant to protect children from actual predators. It's common knowledge that teens don't have great impulse control, and with access to websites like MySpace and Facebook, kids can act on urges that once might have been limited to heated diary entries. What they don't always realize is that some actions have permanent consequences.

In the meantime, Devivo offers some very sage advice: "Don't put anything on the Internet that you don't want your grandparents to see or read."

Should authorities charge the teen? Is this girl guilty of distributing child porn or just really bad judgment?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.