EDITORIAL: Child porn case ignores bullying

Last Thursday, a 17-year-old Victoria-area girl was convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography after she texted naked photos of another underage girl. The images were sent to the victim, another teen and the 17-year-old’s boyfriend.

It appears the conviction met the strict definition of distributing and possessing child pornography, in this case sending around images of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. She also threatened the victim and used the photos to try to humiliate her on Facebook.

But are the actions of this 17-year-old equivalent to a pedophile trading child porn over the Internet, and thereby contributing to the harm and degradation of exploited youth?

It seems in this case, the intent of the 17-year-old was to bully and harass a potential rival.

Clearly Canadian law is unable to cope with the fast moving world of social media and the vicious world of teen bullying, mixed with a culture that encourages young girls to allow racy photos of themselves via a technology that links with ease to the Internet.

Many might agree that defaulting to a child porn charge sends a message that teens distributing photos of naked teens should be dealt with harshly under the law. Certainly bullying left unchecked has led to cases of girls committing suicide.

That said, we should call this recent case what it is – bullying and harassment due to rivalry and jealousy, plain and simple. That doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the offenses or the suffering and humiliation of the victim.

But calling this teen a child pornographer is disingenuous and distracts from the deep and ongoing problem of bullying in the age of social media (not addressed was the fact the boyfriend would have technically been in possession of child pornography, as it was his phone that stored the photos).

If nothing else, parents and educators need to make this a teaching moment. Teens and tweens need to understand legal ramifications of images and text transmitted onto the Internet, and the fact that digital images always have the potential to be distributed into the wider world.

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