States Reconsider Sex Offender Laws for Teens who "Sext"

It's national news now, when teens use their built in cell phone cameras and send explicit photographs of each other to other teens. It becomes national criminal news when those teens responsible are labeled as felony level sex offenders for distributing child pornography.

Phillip Alpert, 18, was one such teen charged with distribution of child pornography for mass texting photographs of his 16-year-old girlfriend after they had a fight.

A growing consensus of lawyers and legislators are starting to believe that child pornography laws are too blunt an instrument to deal with the new wave of adolescent cyberculture.

Last year, Nebraska, Utah, and Vermont reduced the penalties for teens who engage in "sexting" and in 2010, it is thought that 14 other states will consider such legislation as well.

"There is a lot of confusion about how to regulate cellphones and sex and 16-year-olds," Amy Adler, a law professor at New York University stated. "We're in this cultural shift, not only because of technology, but because of what's happening in terms of the representation of teen sexuality as you can see on 'Gossip Girl'."

Lawyers say that these cases are not what the harsh child pornography laws were intended for, however, some state supreme courts uphold the laws and penalties faced by the offenders, though young people are rarely, if ever, jailed for the practice.

One survey reports 1 in 5 teens engages in "sexting."

The laws themselves may be harsh, but some might argue that these teens don't truly understand the consequences of mass distribution of the private images of underage children. Their intentions, fueled by adolescent passions, could fall into the wrong hands, and the teens could be exploited unknowingly. The issue won't be going away anytime soon, and Liberty will be sure to keep you updated here at our blog.