Old laws collide with digital reality in sexting cases

P. Solomon Banda
Associated Press

Canon City, Colo – . — Educators in a small Colorado town say they had no choice but to alert police when they discovered that many high-schoolers were using a cellphone app to collect and hide hundreds of naked photos of themselves.

The law in Colorado and many other states classifies any explicit photos of minors as child pornography, and requires school employees to bring in police the moment they learn of it.

Prosecutors are looking for evidence of coercion and to see if any adults were involved, saying they don’t intend to file criminal charges against everyone.

Meanwhile, the teachers can’t even counsel the students involved, because doing so would require their confidential conversations to be reported to police as well.

“You see the mess we’re in, you know?” Canon City Schools Superintendent George Welsh said. “We have to watch out for the mental health needs of our children, yet we’ve kind of got a structure whereby they would be nuts to come and talk to us about it.”

This kind of bind is increasingly common across the country as laws from the pre-smartphone era that were intended to protect children from sexual predators collide with the digitally saturated reality of today’s teens.

More than a dozen states have reduced the penalties for sexting teens in recent years, but most still treat teens as adults when it comes to possessing child pornography, possibly even labeling them as sex offenders.

This week, two 14-year-old boys on New York’s Long Island were arrested on felony child porn charges after one was accused of recording the other having sex with a girl. As many as 20 students at another school were suspended for either sending or watching the video.

Sexting arrest

In a case marking the latest embarrassment for the agency that protects the president and his family, a uniformed Secret Service officer has posted bail on state charges of trying to solicit a teenage girl for sex but he’s still being held in federal custody.

Lee Robert Moore, 37, of Church Hill, Maryland, waived his right to a preliminary hearing without appearing in court Friday in Delaware on state charges of sexual solicitation of a child under 18 and providing obscene material to a person under 18. He is charged separately in federal court with attempted transfer of obscene material to a minor.