In July 2009, Reason magazine published my feature, "Anatomy of a Child Pornographer," which examined the phenomena of teen sexting, and the ramifications -- legal, emotional, political -- of one incident in upstate New York.
Today's New York Times runs, on page 1, "Poisoned Web: A Girl's Nude Photo, and Altered Lives," a fabulous and comprehensive piece covering the same issues, this time in the state of Washington, with a school administrator and prosecutor two years further down the line, and having learned the behavior will not change, only the way it is handled when handling becomes required.
The subhede to my article was, "What happens when adults catch teenagers 'sexting' photos of each other? The death of common sense." The Times piece shows, at least in this instance, the grown-ups keeping cool heads. Kudos to them, and to the Times' writer, Jan Hoffman.
This piece, by a guy about to enter the same sex-rehab as Tiger Woods, is like a frying pan to the face, the writing is brutal. I certainly have some familiarity with shame-and-sex department. But not like this guy. A clip:
I'll usually open a few different browser tabs and hit the sites I like
best. By now, I'm so far gone in my addiction that your average
penis-in-vagina scenes, even by the grimy gonzo standards of internet
porn, may as well be Victorian courting rituals. My favorite message
board features only the most hardcore, exploitative, gang-bangiest,
piss-drinkingest, public-floggingest scenes you could imagine, and then
some. A few months back I horrifyingly noticed myself jerking off to
video of a Japanese girl being penetrated with cockroaches. A real
girl, not animated. Chuck Klosterman once wrote that some of the more
extreme online stuff is about as sexy as watching someone get hit in
the face with a frying pan, and he's right, though I don't usually get
to the invertebrate smut until the fourth or fifth hour of my sessions.
On a chilly Tuesday morning in November 2007, 16-year-old Alex Davis
was taking a shower before school when his mother, Betty, knocked on
the bathroom door. There was someone downstairs, she said, a New York
state trooper who had come at 7 a.m. to the family’s farm outside
“She said, ‘I think it’s about Laurie,’ ” Alex
recalls. “My stomach kind of dropped, and I thought, ‘This is not going
to be good.’ ”
The previous Friday, after coming home from
football practice with a few teammates, Alex had exchanged text
messages with Laurie, a 14-year-old freshman (whose name has been
changed in this story, as has Alex’s and his family’s). While his
friends played Guitar Hero on his PS2, Alex, captain of the
football, basketball, and tennis teams, read a message from Laurie
saying she wanted to be a cheerleader.
“I said, well, I needed
a cute cheerleader this year,” recalls Alex, a deep-voiced kid with an
open face, dark eyes, and the synaptic quickness of a natural athlete.
“And she said, ‘Oh, yeah? Well, is this cute?’ And then…”
then Alex made what he now calls “that little two-second decision to
mess up my whole life.” He opened photos Laurie took of herself with
her cell-phone, in her bra and panties, and then just her panties. Alex
texted back, asking for more and noting that the reception on his
Verizon LG phone was crap. No problem, Laurie replied. She would send
the photos to his email address. They soon arrived along with a bonus
attachment: a video clip of Laurie performing a striptease. Alex was
happy to receive the images and says Laurie seemed happy to send them,
“like she was willing and she wanted to show more, I guess.” That might
have been the end of it, had the files not, as digital files will,
leaked onto the Internet. Within a day after Alex saw them, so did
Laurie’s mother, who phoned Betty to say, “You need to talk to your
So Betty and her husband Bill sat Alex on the stump that
serves as a stool before the hearth of the home where three generations
of Betty’s family have lived and asked Alex, a leader of their church
youth group and recipient of several good citizen awards, what had
happened. Alex told them. He said he was sorry and wanted to apologize.
Betty called Laurie’s mother, who told her that an apology would be
insufficient. Alex texted Laurie to ask what was going on. She answered
that her father really wanted “to lay down the law.”
the law stood at Alex’s front door, asking on behalf of the Genesee
County Sheriff ’s Department how the pictures came to be distributed.
Alex explained that he had left the email inbox open on his Dell
desktop. His buddy had forwarded the images to his own address.
(According to Alex, he hadn’t shown the photos to anyone or posted them
to his MySpace or Facebook pages, so he assumed this was how they made
their way onto the Net. Later he would learn he was one of four boys
who had received snapshots from Laurie and from whose computers the
images had, like mononucleosis, spread exponentially.)
trooper printed Alex’s statement on a printer he’d brought with him and
watched while Alex signed it. Charges, he said, were pending.