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Sex offender laws criminalizing children

Unintentional wrinkle in sex offender hysteria

forensicpsychologist.blogspot.com, October 10, 2008

A 15-year-old Ohio girl may have to register as a sex offender for the next 20 years - until she is 35 years old! - because she had the bad judgment to share with her friends some nude photos of herself that she took with her cell phone.

The girl's friends may also be charged in the case.

Under the federal Adam Walsh Act, which I blogged about yesterday, judges lost much of their ability to exercise common-sense discretion in cases like this. Instead, crimes must be punished based on fixed offense categories or "tiers."

The law under which the girl is charged makes it a 5th-degree felony to possess material showing a minor in a state of nudity. There is an exemption for parents or guardians who take nude photos of their own children, but no exemption for a child herself.

The legislator who wrote Ohio's Megan's Law, Republican Jay Hottinger, said this type of case was not what the legislature had in mind.

Maybe, instead of just thinking about getting votes, legislators should have been thinking a bit more carefully and deeply when they drafted all these laws, because this high school girl is far from a fluke.

As an expert on child pornography pointed out at a recent forensic psychology conference in Ireland, much of the sexually explicit imagery on the Internet is uploaded by the youngsters themselves, through such sites as Facebook, YouTube and Bebo; other images, as in this case, are sent from friend to friend via mobile phones.

Dr. Ethel Quayle, director of Europe's Combating Paedophile Information Networks in Europe (COPINE) and author of a book on Internet Child Pornography, estimated that about half of all online sexual solicitation involving children is done by the children themselves.

Dr. Quayle said the stereotype of middle-aged men grooming children for sexual exploitation is way off the mark; laws predicated on this bogeyman image are resulting in the increased criminalization of children like the Ohio girl.

The Newark (Ohio) Advocate has more on the Ohio case. The Irish Examiner reported on the forensic conference at University College Cork in Ireland.

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