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'Consensual Sexting' Law Passed in New Mexico

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For decades, there has been a distinct and alarming disparity between the way teenagers develop and how they are treated by the law. For many people, the teen years are when many previously restricted, perhaps even illegal indulgences are first encountered, from drinking to drugs to sex. In many parts of the world, the laws surrounding these things operate from a preventative basis - the government trying to stop these kids from doing these things and most of the time that's exactly why they don't work.

Sex is the most prominent of these, drugs are illegal to everyone anyway and legal age restriction of alcohol is more or less universally enforced by retailers, albeit with varying levels of success. Sex is far harder to restrict, since it usually takes place in private and hormones are far more natural and thus difficult to curtail than rebellion or hedonism. The only way forward is to accept that sexual activity between teens is going to happen, and then making sure that they learn as much as they can about it, and thereby engage in it safely.

The world is slowly, but surely, moving in that direction. Age of consent is a big issue, since consensual sex between two 15-year-olds can't really be regarded on the same level as sex between a 15-year-old and a 47-year-old, yet in Germany, where the consenting age is 14, both would theoretically be equally legal. It tends to change depending on gender and sexual orientation as well. Here in the UK, for instance, there is technically no age of consent for lesbian intercourse. One particular issue is becoming more and more pertinent at the moment, though: the sending of explicit images, or 'sexting'.

Sexting is a bit of a misnomer now, since although that's where it kind of started out, it's now far more commonly done via online messaging platforms. The written version isn't really the cause for concern here, the bigger worry is images. The reasons behind this are easy to understand, anyone who convinces a minor to send them explicit images, or sends their own to the minor should be prosecuted, but when it's happened between two minors, both well aware and in agreement about what they were doing, nobody needs to get arrested.

It's this reasoning which has led the state of New Mexico to introduce new age of consent laws for sexting. 14 to 18-year-olds can now share explicit material between each other legally. There has been some opposition to this bill, but the fact remains that hundreds of teenagers have been faced with shockingly extreme criminal charges for sexting with their partners, which even if they are acquitted, forever places a black mark on their record. Most are completely unaware of any wrong doing until the charges are levied.

That's not to say that sending explicit images back and forth is acceptable behaviour, it's extremely unwise and can lead to all sorts of bigger problems, but that's something that needs to be dealt with privately, not by Johnny Law. The moment you make something illegal, you make it far less likely for people to come forward and talk about it, especially if they're underage. That doesn't mean that they'll stop doing it, and if anything it just makes it more likely to have repercussions.

There are dozens of examples of exactly this and although in many cases the initially severely extreme charges are either dropped or reduced, there's always fallout. In one North Carolina case, two 16-year-olds were charged for sexual exploitation of a minor after it was found that they'd been sending nude images back and forth. They eventually both got landed with a misdemeanor charge, resulting in a year's probation, but think about that for a second - they both stood accused of exploiting the other, they were both simultaneously victims and perpetrators of the same crime.

Yes, there is a very real danger of sex offenders taking advantage of this system, but as is the case with literally every other legal issue there's ever been or ever will be, it has to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, and this law is not offering paedophiles a loophole, it's simply a way for consenting teens to escape disproportionate legal repercussions for something they are more than equipped to deal with in private.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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'Consensual Sexting' Law Passed in New Mexico Reviewed by Callum Davies on Monday, February 29, 2016 Rating: 5

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