Six middle schools boys ages 12-14 in Falmouth, Massachusetts face criminal charges for exhibiting or distributing child pornography in the form of a text message picture.  One of the boys took a nude photo of his 13 year-old girlfriend and “sexted” it to his friends mobile phones.  Sexting has become an epidemic in recent years within adolescent culture. A recent survey suggests that 1 in 5 teens has received or sent nude 0r semi-nude photos through mobile technology.

The question is complex. Should these teenage boys face criminal charges for their actions, particularly if the 13 year-old girl consented to taking the photograph? Columbia University Professor Sari Locker says that the photographs are inappropriate because it can become an “invitation to a sexual relationship” by presenting the young girl as sexually available. But she also concedes that, in her opinion, these boys are clearly “not sexual predators or pedophiles”.

They aren’t likely pedophiles simply by virtue of the fact that they are similar in age to the “victim”. It isn’t, however, clear that these young men aren’t predators. The sexting phenomenon is yet another indication of how deeply influenced the younger generation has become by the porning of America. Even 20 years ago it would have been erotic enough for a young man to simply see his girlfriend nude (I’m not suggesting this is appropriate, but simply pointing out that the deviant experience in itself would have been sufficiently satisfying). But today it isn’t enough just to see it with one’s own eyes. Today it must become a spectacle, a trophy to show off to one’s band of brothers. Isn’t it fair to say that taking a nude picture of someone for the sake of or with the intention of distributing it for others pleasure is predatory in nature?

Is this simply a case of “boys will be boys”, and if so, should the law simply look the other way? This incident does more than simply give others the impression that this young girl is sexually available. It could make her a target for a more sinister predator. If her nude image can end up on someone’s cell phone, isn’t it fair to assume it won’t be long before it ends up on someone’s computer, and then all over the internet? These boys are exploiting this young woman, no matter if the picture was consensual and intended only for her boyfriend (and isn’t it tragic to think that this is the way that 13 year-old young women think that they have to act in order to find acceptance and companionship with the opposite sex?)

Whether or not you should throw the book at these young men is for the courts to decide. The argument will be that the lives of these young men should not be devastatingly altered by an error in judgment, and a case might be made that these young men should not be treated with the same harshness by the law that a known pedophile might be. But should the law choose to look the other way, it will absolutely send the wrong message. It will say to a watching world that this kind of exploitation isn’t really that big of a deal. Sexting will only continue to become more and more prevalent, and countless young men and women will be exploited for the sake of satisfying our highly-sexualized appetites, all in the name of “harmless” photo fun. Is that a risk worth taking?