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Serious Crime and Punishment

A SERIOUS CRIME GETS SERIOUS PUNISHMENT

On September 25, 2017, Anthony Weiner’s six year downward spiral came to an end when Judge Cote of the Southern District of New York sentenced him to 21 months in federal prison on charges stemming from his communications with a 15 year old girl on various social media sites between January and March of 2016. The offense carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; prosecutors recommended a sentence of 21-27 months in prison. Weiner’s incarceration will be followed by 3 years of probation, his registration as a sex offender, and his participation in outpatient sexual offender treatment. Judge Cote stated that Weiner’s previous political career made the sentence even more important for its potential deterrent effect. She also added that “[t]his is a serious crime that deserves serious punishment.”

Weiner, a former U.S. Congressman, pleaded guilty to one charge of transferring obscene material to a minor in federal court in Manhattan in May. The minor, a 15 year old girl whose age was known to Weiner, communicated with Weiner on various social media sites such as Skype, Snapchat, and Facebook Message, where she would perform sexual acts for Weiner at his request. Although this was the only charge brought against Weiner, this was not the only time Weiner had been caught sexting: a sexting scandal had forced him to resign from office in 2011, and another sexual scandal forced him to abandon his run for Mayor of New York City in 2013. At the time that Weiner was sexting with the 15 year old, he was communicating with 19 other women on social media.

SEXTING AND SOCIAL MEDIA

As Weiner’s case illustrates, sexting is a dangerous fact of life on today’s social media sites. The definition of sexting is: the sending of sexually explicit photographs, messages and video in a text message or email. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (2008), 39% of teens have admitted to receiving and sending text messages of a sexual nature such as nude or seminude photos, lewd messages or provocative videos.

Whether it is an adult-to-minor communication, as was the case with Weiner and the 15 year old, or a minor-to-minor communication, sexting in these situations is exploitative. Too often middle and high school girls are pressured and even bullied into sending nude or seminude photos of themselves to boys online. Even when these photos are sent in the context of a relationship, the photos rarely remain private. The photos or videos are often forwarded to classmates—or worse, posted online and used in pornographic sites—and used to “shame” the girl. The girl’s reputation can be ruined, and the emotional toll on the girl can lead to severe academic and physical problems, and in some horribly tragic cases, suicide.

There are legal ramifications of sexting as well. At least 20 states have laws making it illegal to sext to minors. When a minor sends a sexually explicit message, he or she is guilty of a misdemeanor. As Anthony Weiner’s case illustrates, when an adult sends a sexually explicit message to a minor, it constitutes child pornography and coercion and is a felony.

In Georgia, sexting was formerly prosecuted as a felony, like any other child pornography offense. However, in 2013, HB 156 amended the law and changed the offense to a misdemeanor for those under 18 if the following circumstances applied: (1) the person depicted in the image was at least 14 years old; (2) the person in possession of the image was 18 or under; and (3) the person depicted in the image consented to the creation and distribution of the image. The more lenient approach is actually more protective of teens since it encourages more uniform enforcement of the law against sexting; when the law carried a felony charge and penalty, prosecutors hesitated to enforce it against teens.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Knowing the social media sites that teens use helps, but new sites continue to pop up all the time. More to the point, a teen that is intent on sexting will find a site—and a way—to do it. The most important thing is to have ongoing conversations with your teenager—male and female— about the dangers associated with sexting, about the negative impact it can have on their prospects for college, a job, and their future career if pictures get online and stay there. Talk with your teen about the fact that even forwarding a sexually explicit photo is illegal and can land them in juvenile court with a misdemeanor charge as a delinquent.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you know someone who is being bullied or exploited online, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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