If the thought of your teen sending nude photos to their significant other puts you in a tailspin, you’re not the only one. In fact, your local police might even have something to say about it. That’s what happened to Cormega Copening and Brianna Denson, a teenaged couple from Fayetteville, North Carolina, when they were recently busted by the cops for having naked selfies on their phones.
Copening and Denson were both 16 years old when they took and exchanged naked selfies that were stored on their phones. The photos were subsequently discovered by police during a larger investigation regarding sexual photos being shared at the couple’s school. Denson and Copening were not involved with that case, but they were still charged with exploitation of a minor for — get this — exploiting themselves.
They were prosecuted under federal child pornography laws for their own selfies and Copening was charged with an additional count of possession of child pornography for having the photo of his girlfriend. Even crazier? The age of consent in North Carolina is 16, so it was perfectly legal for the couple to have actual sex, but sexting is apparently a federal crime.
Both teens accepted a plea deal that includes probation and being banned from using a cell phone for one year. Copening was also suspended from his role as quarterback of the school football team while the case was ongoing. If this whole thing seems utterly ridiculous to you, well, that’s because it is. These kids were basically charged with possession of pictures of themselves. In what world does that make sense?
I understand laws have to exist to protect minors from exploitation by adults and people who seek to take advantage of them. What I don’t understand is why we can’t come up with a better way to enforce laws against sex with minors and exploitation of minors without punishing kids for being sexually curious.
Copening is now 17 years old and is considered an adult. Part of the reason he accepted a plea deal was to avoid having to register as a sex offender — something that would follow him forever — for having pictures of himself and of someone who could legally consent to having a sexual relationship with him.
We can tell our kids not to take naked photos until we’re blue in the face, but all evidence seems to suggest that they’re doing it anyway, whether we like it or not. They’re going to be curious about sex. They’re going to make use of the technology they have to express their curiosity about sex. It’s not favorable to some but in circumstances like this one, it’s also not criminal activity.
Laws against exploitation should protect kids from harm, not put them at risk for having their whole future destroyed because they took a naked selfie. We might be uncomfortable at the thought of teens discovering their sexuality, but that doesn’t mean it’s a crime.