Saturday, August 12, 2017

How To Invent Mini Sex Offenders

   Technology is moving at such a fast rate that state and federal laws are often years behind addressing some of the new problems that come up based upon new technological advances. One such problem are laws surrounding sex offender status, sext messaging and child pornography.

   According to statistics gathered by Impact Justice a national innovation and research center, in 75% of the states, there are laws that still exist that “require children as young as 8 years old to be placed on sex offender registries, often for life, when adjudicated of what the courts deem sexual crimes.” This pre-adolescent to sex registry pipeline began in the mid 90’s, corresponding to budding growth and development of the World Wide Wide, smart phone technology, text messaging and social media. Keep in mind that many of these children are not registrants because of a sexual crime they actually committed, many of them are registered sex offenders based upon doing something as silly as pulling student’s pants down at school, public urination, sending a nude photo or sext messaging someone who happened to be underage. Even more problematic is the fact that many of these children are disproportionately people of color from impoverished urban environments without the finances to fight legal cases like this.

   Consider the case of Bobby Garza who was registered as a sex offender when he was 11 years old for indecent exposure to a child. His crime? He and his brother were urinating outside, a girl saw them and reported that they exposed themselves to her. Bobby was placed in foster care and escaped until he was placed in a youth detention facility for the next 6 years. Upon his release when he was 17 he had to register as a sex offender until he was 27 years old. Feeling that this was unfair he refused to register and was sentenced to prison for 5 years. Another example is Cormega Copening who was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor and making child porn in 2014 for sharing nude photos with his girlfriend Brianna Benson when they were both 16 years old. They were arrested in 2015. A standout quarterback for his high school football team, Copening was benched by his team pending further investigation missing a critical time of his athletic career, facing nationwide public humiliation and the frightening possibility of becoming a registered sex offender. While awaiting trial, Copening was put on probation for a year when five felony charges of making and possessing child pornography were reduced to two misdemeanors in a plea bargain. It wasn’t until he competed his probation did County District Court Judge dismiss the two remaining charges, yet the damage was already done. According to North Carolina law, Copening and Benson were considered adults and children at the same time; when people 16 and older commit crimes they are prosecuted as adults, but if they are under age 18, and crime victims, they are considered minors. When Benson made and possessed nude photos of herself, North Carolina law treated her as if she were an adult pornographer who was victimizing her minor self. Thus charging her with two counts of felony sexual exploitation of a minor. Copening faced 4 charges for making and possessing nude photos of himself and 1 charge for possessing a nude photo that Benson sent to him. It’s outdated laws such as this in many states, which consider a teen both a victim and perpetrator, that are one of problematic reasons we see miscarriages of justice like this. These are just two cases involving young people of color who have found themselves punished for unreasonably defined so-called crimes. Another issue is the fact that while the identity of juveniles involved in a crime are kept private, a juvenile convicted as a sex offender is publicly registered.

   One of the other growing concerns are recent cases involving hundreds of students posting and sharing nude photos in Facebook groups, on other social media networks such as Twitter and Snapchat and on the file sharing site Dropbox. One such case is a child porn scandal involving an unnamed 17 year old student at Davidson Senior High School in Davidson, Michigan. Police learned that this student gathered over 100 nude photos of students posted to Snapchat, saved them to Dropbox and shared them around the school. Pending a full investigation, this student could be charged as an adult and according to Michigan law, nude photos of a person under the age of 18 is considered child sexual abusive material. The Prosecutor in this case can not only charge this student with the dissemination of child pornography but any student that posted these images to Snapchat in the first place. This is not even considering those youth who do not attend Davidson High School that may have downloaded those images from Dropbox and disseminated them.

   From the above examples I am sure you can see the magnitude of this issue surrounding sex offender registry status, sext messaging and child pornography and how there is usually no legal precedence of how cases like this should be handled. Historically speaking, as with most legal precedence's in this country, people of color from impoverished urban environments without the finances to fight these legal cases become the face of these often unfair judgments. Every quarter of the year technology advances to create and update tools we use that many state and federal laws are far behind. Advocacy groups such as Impact Justice and the Center on Youth Registration Reform are leading the charge to not only end youth sex offender registration but educate the public about its link to suicide, juvenile delinquency, homelessness, mental health issues, alcoholism and drug abuse. I encourage you to talk to the youth and look into workshops and information about internet and social media safety. Check out Impact Justice and the Center on Youth Registration Reform online to find our more about the legal cases and statistics involving youth sex registry. If we’re not on top of this and playing an active role to insure that we inform and protect our children, this system of creating mini sex offenders could be the next preschool to prison pipeline.

Post a Comment