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Commentary: Is 'sexting' child pornography?

  • Story Highlights
  • Mike Galanos: Teens are sending explicit photos of themselves to other kids
  • He says parents should be aware of what's happening and educate children
  • Galanos: Sexting should be punished but not treated as child pornography
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By Mike Galanos
HLN
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Editor's note: Mike Galanos hosts "Prime News" from 5-7 p.m. ET Mondays through Fridays on HLN. "Prime News" uses the day's most powerful headlines as a starting point for diverse perspectives, spirited debate and your points of view.

Galanos

Mike Galanos says child pornography charges are too harsh for teens caught "sexting."

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- "Sexting."

Have parents out there ever even heard of this term?

Whether you want to admit it or not, teenagers are sending sexual messages and naked pictures of themselves to their boyfriends and girlfriends. In most cases it's the girl sending a picture or message to the guy.

If you're thinking to yourself right now, "What's the big deal?" then you should think again. This practice can ruin our teenagers' lives.

Six teens in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, were charged as juveniles with possessing child pornography after three girls sent nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves to three boys.

It gets even worse.

A 13-year-old boy in Middletown, Ohio, is facing felony pandering obscenities charges after taping a sex act and showing it to friends at a skating party. A felony? Yes this kid needs to be punished but we don't need our 13 or 14-year-olds charged with child porn and lumped in with adult pedophiles and labeled as sex offenders.

I've spoken with several attorneys on our show and it seems there is no one reason prosecutors are opting to charge teens with child porn instead of lesser charges. Some may be doing it to "send a message."

Some may feel they have an obligation to charge these teens with the most serious offense possible and, according to the law, naked pictures of underage kids are usually considered child porn. And others may feel they are left with no options since there aren't really any laws that apply specifically to sexting.

In any case, it's clear we need to change our laws to catch up with technology.

A great illustration of why change is needed now is the story of Phillip Alpert, of Orlando, Florida. He didn't ask, but his girlfriend sexted him naked pictures of herself, according to the Orlando Sentinel. When they broke up, he mass e-mailed the photos to get back at her. Alpert, 18, was convicted of transmission of child porn and he will carry the label of "sex offender" until he is 43. He lost friends, was kicked out of school, he can't even move in with his dad because his dad lives near a school.

Should Phillip be punished? Yes. Should the six teens in Pennsylvania face consequences? Yes. But let's kick them off cheerleading squads and sports teams. Make them do community service and take classes on sex crimes. Educate other teens on the dangers of sexting. Pay a price, yes, but these young people shouldn't pay for this for the rest of their lives.

And if you think this couldn't happen to your kid, think again. Sexting is more prevalent than you think.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy teamed up with CosmoGirl.com and asked over 1,200 teens about their sexual behaviors in cyberspace.

According to their study, 39 percent of teens (that's ages 13-19) are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages over IM, text or e-mail and around the same number of teens are receiving such messages. Half of those teens, 20 percent, are sending or posting nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves. That's frightening.

Why are our kids doing this?

On our show, psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser said, "What I'm finding is a lot of girls are doing this because they're hoping it will help them get or keep a boyfriend." The numbers agree with Stacy.

According to the study, 51 percent of girls say it's "pressure from guys" that's making them send sexual messages and pictures of themselves. So guys are expecting this and our girls are saying "OK." It makes me wonder how much progress we've really made in how young women are viewed and treated.

The bottom line: We need to educate, not incarcerate, our teens and it has to start with parents.

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Don't let the culture indoctrinate your little boy or girl about sex before their time. So strike first as a parent. If your kids are older, let them know a digital record is for life. When little Suzie tries to win the affection of little Bobby by sexting him a picture, she is putting her future at stake. There is no control over that image or video once it gets out. But that doesn't mean little Suzie should be charged as a child pornographer.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Galanos.

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