“Sexting” is the term used to describe the act of using a cell phone to share sexually explicit photos. It brought two North Carolina teenagers in conflict with the law.
During an investigation at a Fayetteville high school, law enforcement officials found a naked photo that Cormega Copening took of himself when he was sixteen. Copening was consequently charged with four counts of sexual exploitation for taking and possessing sexually explicit photos of a minor. He was named both the victim and the perpetrator of the crime. He was also charged with having a photo of his 16 year-old girlfriend on his cell phone.
Copening’s sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Brianna Denson, made a sexually explicit nude photo of herself for him and was charged with two felony crimes against herself: one for making her photo and another for having her nude photo in her possession. Like Copening, Denson was listed as both the adult perpetrator and minor victim.
Psychologist Jeff Temple of the University of Texas Medical Branch said his research found that 28 percent of teens use their cell phones to send nude photos of themselves to other teens. A study by researchers at Drexel University in Pennsylvania reported the same results. Temple also said that sexting is not associated with other risky behaviors such as having multiple sexual partners or using drugs or alcohol before sex.
If convicted, both Copening and Denson faced prison time and being registered as a sex offender. Denson accepted a plea deal in which she pled guilty to the misdemeanor of disseminating harmful materials to minors. She was placed on probation for a year, ordered to pay court costs ($200), stay in school, take a class on how to make good decisions, refrain from using illegal drugs or alcohol, not possess a cell phone for the duration of her probation, and do 30 hours of community service. Copening also reached a plea deal that will place him on probation for a year, during which time he will be subject to warrantless searches.
Temple said that instead of punishing young people for this type of texting, resources should be more on education. For several years, the American Civil Liberties union has argued that teens should not be arrested for sexting their boyfriends or girlfriends. The organization also notes that anti-sexting laws may disproportionate target girls and that in campaigns against sexting, the emphasis is often placed specifically on dissuading young women from taking sexy photos of themselves.