A 16-year-old Juliet and her 16-year-old Romeo in Fayetteville, NC have been arrested for exploiting minors. Their crime? The two snap-happy lovers were consensually sexting, exchanging sexually-provocative pictures they had taken – of themselves – to each other. The charges are felonies in North Carolina.
Ah, Fayetteville, you’re making the news today. This time though, it’s not Fayetteville, Arkansas where residents recently passed an ordinance giving equal protection to LGBTQ. It’s Fayetteville, North Carolina and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. Imagine my surprise when I read about a 16-year-old Fayetteville girl arrested for two felony sex crimes… against herself.
That’s right! She and her 16-year-old boyfriend were “sexting” each other (sending sexually-explicit pictures). Authorities were investigating other pictures that were being shared amongst local teens without the consent of the subject of the pictures when they discovered the sexting.
Here is where it gets crazy. Despite the fact that the two 16 year-olds were sharing sexy pics consensually, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office charged them for breaking the law. Specifically, this law:
“A person commits the offense of second degree sexual exploitation of a minor if, knowing the character or content of the material, he [or she]:
(1) Records, photographs, films, develops, or duplicates material that contains a visual representation of a minor engaged in sexual activity; or
(2) Distributes, transports, exhibits, receives, sells, purchases, exchanges, or solicits material that contains a visual representation of a minor engaged in sexual activity.”
The two snap-happy lovers were also booked on charges of third-degree exploitation for “possessing the visual representation.”
Get a pen and paper, you may need to draw a chart to keep up with this next bit.
The girl’s charges included:
- One count of second-degree exploitation (of herself) for taking her own picture
- One count of third-degree exploitation (again, of herself) for keeping it
The boy’s charges included:
- Two counts of second-degree exploitation (of himself) for taking two pictures of himself
- Two counts of third-degree exploitation (again, of himself) for keeping his own pictures
- One count of third-degree exploitation for having her picture
For those who opted not to diagram this mess, that is a total of seven felony charges, six of which involve each teen exploiting himself/herself. This is madness!
Felony records will follow these teens the rest of their lives if they’re convicted. On top of that, both of them will have to register as sex offenders, also for the rest of their lives.
If this isn’t enough to make you scratch your collective heads and wonder if you’re somehow dreaming, the girl’s arrest warrant listed her “as both the adult perpetrator and the minor victim” in the case. Obviously, the law recognizes the bizarre dichotomy that a person is an adult at 18 for the purposes of joining the military, but not an adult until 21 for the purposes of consuming alcohol.
However, the idea that one can simultaneously be the victim and the perpetrator of the same crime? That one is just too far-fetched, even for daytime TV.
“But we’re protecting our children from…” Themselves? OK, I can buy that argument. We don’t allow our kids to touch the hot stove, despite their rampant curiosity, because we don’t want them to be burned. Get this, though: if the teens had been caught having sex, no law would have been broken!
The age of consent in NC is 16 and though there is a law against anyone 16 or older “taking indecent liberties with children,” the victim must be younger than 16 and the perp must be at least five years older than the victim. In this case, both teens were 16 so the law doesn’t apply.
To recap: taking sexy pictures of yourself at 16 is a felony, but actually having sex is perfectly legal. Now, I think I may be dreaming. Someone pinch me, please!
As if I haven’t already thrown enough at you to keep you in “What the heck?!” land for the rest of the week, there’s more! To illustrate the horribleness of the teens’ crimes against themselves, I present a list of non-felony crimes in North Carolina:
- Assault causing serious injury: Class A1 misdemeanor
- Child abuse, injury not “serious”: Class A1 misdemeanor
- Being a Klan member: Class 1 misdemeanor (likely unconstitutional)
- Harboring an escaped prisoner: Class 1 misdemeanor
- Permitting young children to use dangerous firearms: Class 2 misdemeanor
- Failure to support your spouse and/or children: Class 2 misdemeanor
If Bonnie and Clyde here had teamed up and beat the living daylights out of a defenseless elderly couple, they would have been charged with a misdemeanor, but because they (gasp!) consensually shared pics of their private bits, the get felony charges. Really, people, I need someone to pinch me! This has got to be a nightmare!
Sadly, it’s not. The girl has already taken a plea deal. The DA pointed out to her that in entirely consensual cases of self-exploitation, the state is kind enough to encourage the lesser charge of “disseminating harmful material to minors,” a misdemeanor. She got a year’s probation and has to “take a class on how to make good decision.” Maybe the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and the state legislators should take this class, too.
The junior Romeo has yet to be offered the same plea deal, but if logic prevails, it’s likely going to happen. Then again, if logic prevailed, I would have been pinched awake by now.