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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lewd Or Just Disgusting? Sexting Or Just Sharing?

British Billionaire Alki David recently offered $1 million Internet challenge to anyone who could streak in front of President Obama with the name of David's competition website on his chest. Police say 24-year-old Juan J. Rodriguez of New York City was charged with indecent exposure, public lewdness and disorderly conduct after he did just that last weekend. ("Man Gets Naked at Obama Rally for $1 Million," WPTZ TV, October 12 2010)

Rodriguez was arraigned Monday night and released on a $10,000 signature bond.  Rodriguez told reporters that his family needed the money and he believed he had done everything required to win it. He says he didn't believe he had done anything inappropriate. The White House declined to comment. It was unclear this whether Rodriguez will collect the $1 million. David's team has been reviewing Rodriguez's naked moment in the spotlight from several different camera angles "to see if he was in eyesight or ear shot" of the President..

Lewd conduct is generally defined as "any unlawful act committed by an individual with the purpose of arousing the libido or sexual interest of themselves or the person towards which this action is directed." ("Criminal Law Attorneys,", 2010) Lewd conduct criminal offenses typically involve pornography, prostitution, or indecent exposure offenses. Lewd behavior (also called lewd and lascivious conduct) is considered a crime by the federal government and all fifty states, though the definition and consequences of lewd conduct can vary by jurisdiction.

The exact definitions and penalties for lewd conduct crimes depend on the jurisdiction and the specific facts of the case. In general, lewd conduct is a serious criminal offense that can lead to many legal ramifications. Lewd conduct that involves another adult can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the acts in question; whereas, lewd conduct that involves minors is considered a felony offense. The criminal conviction certainly  carries significant social stigma and serious legal consequences.

 In Ohio, the law 2919.22 deals with endangering children. 

 § 2919.22 Endangering children. 

 (B) No person shall do any of the following to a child under eighteen years of age or a mentally or physically handicapped child under twenty-one years of age:

        (5) Entice, coerce, permit, encourage, compel, hire, employ, use, or allow the child to act, model, or in any other way participate in, or be photographed for, the production, presentation, dissemination, or advertisement of any material or performance that he knows or reasonably should know is obscene, is sexually oriented matter, or is nudity-oriented matter.

Finding a consistent definition of sexting in law or research is nearly impossible.  According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (“NCMEC”), the term refers to the practice of “youth writing sexually explicit messages, taking sexually explicit photos of themselves or others in their peer group, and transmitting those photos and/or messages to their peers.” (, July 2 2010)
                                                                                                                                                             Recent surveys by the Associated Press and MTV indicate that as many as 25% to 33% of young adults admit to sexting. “About 61 percent report that they were pressured by someone to send the image. Girls were more likely to share a naked image of themselves than boys. Those who are already sexually active were much more likely to send an image than those who were not sexually active.” (Denise Tejada, "New Sexting Survey Shows Trend Growing," Youth Radio, December 3 2009)

While the research shows that most of the youth admitted to sending pictures to their significant other, 29% said they send naked pictures to someone they simply knew online. This practice invites abuse. Tejada reports, “About 50 percent of youths who responded to the survey said they’ve been the victim of some form of digital abuse. The most common type of abuse was being the target of a smear campaign; about 22 percent of respondents indicated they’d been the target of lies spread through digital media. About 8 percent of respondents indicated they’d been threatened with some form of digital blackmail.” Also, approximately 12 percent of students sexting have contemplated suicide. 

Another survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found some "teens believe sexually suggestive images have become a form of relationship currency,” said Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist and author of the report. “These images are shared as a part of, or instead of, sexual activity, or as a way of starting or maintaining a relationship with a significant other. And they are also passed along to friends for their entertainment value, as a joke or for fun.” (Amanda Lenhart, "Teens and Sexting," Pew Internet, December 15 2009)

"Technology is much more far-reaching and permanent, and teenagers are not consequential thinkers . . . They are pushing boundaries around sexuality. Years ago they would flash someone or moon someone or write notes or start rumors," says Elizabeth Schroeder, who has a doctorate in human sexuality education. Now, they can use cell phones and computers to act out sexually. (Peggy OCrowley, "The Sexting Generation," New Jersey Online, August 13 2009)

Given the scope of teenage sexting, it comes as little surprise that a number of intimate pictures wind up in the wrong hands, sometimes with disastrous consequences. In addition to peers, other unintended recipients can include sexual predators, pornographers combing the Internet, or perhaps even worse, the police. Current laws draw no clear delineation between minors who send or receive nude photos of minors and adults who do the same. That means a minor sexting pictures of himself or herself could face child pornography charges, complete with felony status and mandatory sex offender registry.

Although these kinds of charges are quite rare, minors in Ohio have been arrested on felony charges for possessing explicit images of other minors. Whether embarrassment, exploitation or even imprisonment is the result, the potential consequences of a youthful mistake like sexting can clearly be enormous.

Under a new bill currently in the Senate of Ohio, exchange and possession of images of nudity between minors by a telecommunications device would be a misdemeanor, but laws pertaining to anyone above the age of 18 sending or receiving pictures of a minor would remain unchanged. (Raymond T. Faller, "A New Sexting Bill in the Legislature,", July 12 2010)

Offending minors would be labeled as “unruly children,” meaning they would go to juvenile court, where they can be punished, but not jailed. Likely punishments would include things like probation, fines or court-ordered community service. Redefining how the law applies to sexting between minors is meant to keep youths who sext off the sex offender registry and out of jail or prison, while at the same time establishing legal consequences for sexting.
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