Guest Commentary

The 'sexting' epidemic proves that it's time to review our sex-offender laws

Federal Judge James Munley recently took the near-unprecedented step of preventing local prosecutors from bringing child-porn charges against several teenage girls who took and sent pictures of themselves and each other in states of undress.

The girls are just the latest example of the sexting epidemic, which has been addressed kind of like termites in the house: You've heard the creaking for years, but turned away until the bottom fell out of your kitchen floor.

Too bad there was no Judge Munley for Keimond Brown, and the many thousands of boys like him.

Brown was charged with the aggravated molestation of a 13-year-old girl, and now has to register as a sex offender. Before your chorus of, "They should have shot him," reaches critical mass, consider that he was 15. Indeed, in the matter of Pima county juvenile no. 74802, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld registration for a probation violator, for sex with a 14-year-old female. He was 16.

According to the National Center for Juvenile Justice, 19,000 people are on registries for consensual childhood or adolescent behavior, most of them boys. The study found that one in 220 adult males is a registered sex offender. We also know, courtesy of a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, that 22 percent of teen girls have sent nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves to others.

Only now that the cloud these laws have caused threatens to envelop and swallow whole the population the laws were drafted to protect—white girls—are we looking to the underground shelters. The chickens have indeed come home to roost, in eight-megapixel resolution, brought to you by Olympus and Kodak.

America is now compelled to come to grips with some inconvenient truths, and we are at a crossroads. We now have a sex crime whose primary perpetrators are 11-to-18-year-old females. The production of adolescent porn is being driven by Chelsea and Heather, not balding white physics professors. These girls making these videos and images are as young as 13, and completely free of adult influence, at odds with the very premise of sex-crime jurisprudence. If we are serious about the "rule of law," then the ranks of my lot will swell with the ranks of teen girls. And if you agree that Keimond is a deviant, then a huge percentage of boys and men are sex offenders—your husbands, nephews, brothers, custodians, police officers, construction workers and doctors.

The upside of all this is that we have an opportunity to re-evaluate our sex-crime laws. We must rethink how leisurely we throw around words such as "dangerous," "predator" and "victim." Jessica Lunsford—abducted and killed in Florida in 2005—was a victim. The 16-year-olds who go to adult spring break and flash for Joe Francis are not. We must acknowledge that there are differences in contexts. That does not excuse a father or uncle or teacher, but if a 21-year-old John Walsh—Mr. America's Most Wanted himself—can date his future wife at 16 (according to a Men's Journal article from June 2002), then why are others getting thrown in jail for doing so?

Any of these laws that don't target molesters of actual children, rapists and sex traffickers should be scaled back, changed to misdemeanors or expunged. All boys who had sexual contact with girls that was not nonconsensual should have their convictions expunged. Put in more community service; implement more sensible penalties, like lifetime computer monitoring for those convicted of looking at child porn; push felony charges for molesters who apply at day-care centers and schools.

We haven't much time. These laws are eating the young and our boys in myriad ways. Don't do it for me; do it for your sons and their future wives, so that there will be no more Keimonds.

T. Vaughn Henry is a convicted sex offender. Now would be a good time to reiterate the fact that the opinions expressed here are solely the opinions of the writers, and not the Tucson Weekly.