Monday, January 13, 2014

Dumb teenagers

No one can disagree that people are dumb and make bad decisions.  Being a teenager is a pretty good way to magnify the likelihood of bad decisions but thankfully it also grants a pretty good defence.  "I was a dumb teenager" is a tag pretty much everyone gets to slap on a few regrettable incidents.  When dumb teenage decisions negatively impact others we have a responsibility to impose some consequences on the perpetrators but we really need to keep our eyes on the goal.  The point of those consequences is not to ruin the lives of teenagers but rather to give them a nudge in the right direction.

This brings me to a recent court decision in Canada to convict a 17 year old girl of distributing child pornography.  The girl in question shared explicit pictures of another girl of similar age that were taken with consent.  She also sent a huge number of harassing messages and threats.  The sensible response would be to pursue normal prosecution for the threatening messages and then to simply move on.  Child pornography convictions should be reserved for the monsters who rape children not spiteful teenagers who share legally taken pictures of their peers on social networks.

This debacle really indicates that at the moment we have a real weakness in our criminal code.  If prosecutors want to try people for this sort of behaviour there should be some appropriate charge to use rather than resorting to the nuclear option of a child pornography charge.  I don't know what that charge would be but honestly it shouldn't result in anything more serious than community service.  Rather than go that route though I think we really need to just get over it and accept that this sort of behaviour needs to be dealt with either by unpleasant social consequences or parental involvement, not the courts.

Nude pictures are a real embarrassment for some people but the extent to which we flip out over them is really absurd.  The comments on the article I linked talk about how the the victim's life is ruined and that the perpetrator needs to have her life ruined as well.  It seems very sad to me that we deem a woman's life value entirely dependent on consistent body covering.  Modesty and its cousin chastity are fine choices and all but using them as the measuring stick for a person's worth is sickening.  Society does the victim no favours by telling her that the only thing of value she had to contribute was keeping her genitals from public view.

This is another example of absurd governmental response to minor crimes.  People so often speak of justice and yet I see no justice in spending a quarter of a million dollars to destroy a person's life.  Can we think of no better way to spend vast sums of money?  It is just as ridiculous to spend that kind of money to imprison people for smoking pot or exchanging money for sex as it is to toss this girl in prison for 'child pornography'.


  1. I certainly agree with the main thrust and I think out current child porn laws are very dangerously worded. I was appalled when I saw that conviction come in. I feel like you are downplaying how bad it is to have someone distribute naked pictures of you online, though. Plus, several highly publicized cases of teenage girls committing suicide after being relentlessly teased for such pictures has put people on high alert for this sort of thing.

    I have to wonder how the girl who did this acted in court, though. Specifically, I wonder if she came across as a remorseless psycho who would do it again regardless of the consequences. That kind of thing can make a really big difference, even if bad laws are still bad.

  2. Well it is clear that the perp is a bit off the deep end. There were apparently 36,000 texts involved, which is completely nuts even if the perp is only responsible for half of them. I don't know how she behaved in court but clearly this isn't as simple as a one click mistake - it was an ongoing dispute over a significant time period. I certainly think that the perp actly horribly and deserves some sort of punishment but conviction for child porn is not the right response.

    I agree that naked pictures of you online is a serious problem but I feel like the response should not be to punitively and inappropriately punish the person who shared them, particularly if the pictures were taken consensually. There is a world of difference between 'You took naked pictures of me without my knowledge or consent and spread them around' and 'I took naked pictures of me and shared them and people saw them who I didn't want to see them'. One is a serious crime and one is a serious error in judgement that has unfortunate consequences.