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Internet sex crimes outpace existing legal statutes

The term "selfie" is still relatively new in the cultural lexicon, but it is making a big splash in criminal law cases involving child pornography. Technological innovations tend to move far faster than the law, which means that social media related crimes must currently be prosecuted by outdated standards. The result: the criminalization of teens sending each other scandalous photographs through the web. Should such activities be considered Internet sex crimes?

It is widely recognized that an adult who takes a sexually explicit photograph of a young person should face criminal charges, especially if that image is shared through social media or other tech venues. Most people would agree that the adult had violated a child pornography statute. However, would you say the same about a teenager who takes illicit self-photographs and then sends them to another teen in a private conversation? What about those teens who forward the picture to others without their permission?

Legislators in North Carolina and other states are struggling to answer these questions. Minors are currently being prosecuted under existing child porn and sex crimes statutes for lack of a better legal definition. These minors are facing prosecution even if the photograph exchanges are consensual. One complication: If the racy photo appears in other arenas -- such as a public social media site -- child porn laws should technically still apply.

State politicians are working to close loopholes that would allow tech-savvy offenders to get away with sex crimes. In the process, though, some innocent or uneducated tech users could get swept up in the mix. Those defendants -- many of whom may be unaware that their devices even contain child porn -- deserve to have their legal rights protected, no matter the sex crimes allegations they face.

Source: FindLaw, "Child Pornography and Selfies: What You Need to Know" Aug. 26, 2014

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