16-year-old Brianna Denson of Fayetteville, North Carolina plead guilty in July as an adult – for crimes against herself.
The girl had taken nude photos of herself, an increasingly common activity among teenagers, and had possessed it. That’s two charges. To avoid becoming a sex offender, which brings with it a lifetime stigma, the girl decided to plead guilty and received a year on probation. Her boyfriend, on the other hand, Cormega Zyon Copening, is facing five counts in all, one of which is for having a copy of the photo of his girlfriend. If convicted, he will be a registered sex offender, which some might argue will weaken the value of the registry overall.
The irony of the law is that the pair could have had all the sex they wanted without breaking it. But according to current interpretations, taking nude photos of themselves and sending them to each other is a crime. Meanwhile, adult police are actively looking at nude photos of young girls on a regular basis. Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office lawyer Ronnie Mitchell told the Fayetteville Observer the agency conducts several such investigations every month, but shied away from standing up for their legitimacy. Instead, Mitchell said the agency’s job is to enforce the law as it is written, not interpret it. But there has to be some negative effects of flooding the courts with cases that do no actual public good.
Nationwide, cases like Denson and Copening’s are filling the courts. In July, a very similar case surfaced in Virginia, where a boyfriend and girlfriend were charged with what amounts to sharing nude photos with each other. Eerily, the boy in the Virginia case was also a football star and also received more charges than his girlfriend. The case gained particular attention when investigators wanted to use inject the boy with an erection-inducing drug in order to match his penis to the penis in the image. In a bizarre twist of justice, the judge in his case actually granted the search warrant for a picture of his erect penis.
It’s hard to read news like this and have the same view of law enforcement and the justice system. A new definition of victimless crimes which will create lifetime criminals of people who had no intention of exploiting anyone. A common question that has arisen surrounding Densen’s case is the obvious: can’t she just drop the charges against herself? Is it illegal to look at herself naked in the mirror? What about when she masturbates, is that child molestation? All of these questions illustrate the underlying point that these are not issues to be dealt with by law enforcement, whose resources are limited.
It dilutes the value of the sex offender registry, weakens the sex offender laws, and essentially makes real sex offenders harder to recognize. Brought to its logical extreme, tens of millions of teens would become sex offenders for life, which would overwhelm the system used to monitor them. In essence, the very actions supposedly taken to protect teenagers will inevitably endanger them further.
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