By Rory Fleming . . . In America, an 80-year-old man can have sex with a consenting 16-year-old without breaking the law in over half the states. But the possession by an 18-year-old of a digital image of a 17-year-old’s bare breast is considered by our legal system as the equivalent of setting off a nuclear bomb in a national park.
One reason: the evidence never completely goes away. Like some of the radioactive trace elements produced in nuclear fallout, computerized sexual images retain their poison for several lifetimes.
The courts have responded accordingly, with what sentencing guidelines consider an appropriate level of punishment. If caught, the 18-year-old could face stiff state and federal penalties. Under the 2017 federal Protection Against Sexual Exploitation of Minors Act, a first offender who “knowingly” produces, or causes to be produced or transmitted, “a visual depiction of a minor engaged in any sexually explicit conduct” is subject to a mandatory-minimum prison sentence of 15 years.
And the penalty can be adjudicated long after the offense happened, since there are no statutes of limitations for “child pornography” on the federal level.
Perhaps worst of all, he could end up on the sex offender registry, labeled as a dangerous pedophile — in some states for life.
In 2016, Maine took a common-sense step towards changing the blunt approach that makes youthful indiscretions equivalent to the crimes of a child pornographer. It did so with bipartisan legislation that applied the same age limitations governing who can be prosecuted for sexual abuse of minors to “sexting” on the Internet—a behavior that about one fourth of U.S. teenagers admit to doing.