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Virginia teen sexting case: (Somewhat) reduced injustice

It was a picture-perfect example of how a law intended to protect children can be used to victimize them. But the juvenile judge didn’t comment on the perversion of justice – or the prosecution’s victimization of a teenager by ordering police to photograph the boy’s genitals and threatening even more abusive treatment. He just eased the punishment meted out to the boy (his girlfriend was not charged) in this teen sexting case that was by all accounts consensual.

Although Judge George M. DePolo said he found “facts sufficient on both [felony child pornography] counts” to convict, the Washington Post reported, he “suspended imposition of any ruling for one year, placed the teen on probation, and ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service and have no access to text messaging or social media of any kind. Thankfully, he also said, “The defendant shall not be placed on the sex-offender registry or any similar lists.”

The boy’s attorney, Jessica Harbeson Foster, said, “This is a law to protect juveniles, not to prosecute them, not to create more harm,” according to the Post. But somehow Judge DePolo didn’t see it that way. He put nothing on record about the prosecution’s “outrageous abuse of power and … unfathomable violation of this kid’s privacy,” as Post blogger and author Radley Balko put it last month in a post entitled “We must destroy the children in order to save them” providing some case history on sexting by minors.

How can there be so much variation in the way these cases are prosecuted? The district attorney’s office in Genesee County, N.Y., has “taken the tack, we don’t want to hurt anybody. We want the school resource officer to intercede and put the fear of God in these kids. If there are further problems, let us know, but word is going out to the parents that the school is handling it internally,” the defense attorney in a 2007 case there told Reason.com in “Anatomy of a Child Pornographer.” Clearly that prosecutor was ahead of his time.

Please see my last post on this for guidance for law enforcement – in the form of a sexting typology offered by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

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