CALGARY, MAY 27 2016 — Children are thought to be innocent, vulnerable, lacking the maturity to make good decisions and in need of protection. And when it comes to sexualized images of minors being accessed and shared online, then the safety and protection of the child is seen as paramount.
But what if it’s the minors, themselves, producing and sharing the images?
Brian Simpson of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia is looking at consensual sexting and minors’ assumed poor capacity to make “proper” judgments versus the right of children to control their own bodies.
Discussion about consensual sexting and minors often focuses on the negative consequences of the activity. Children are warned to be careful about what they post as it can come back to hurt them and damage the reputation of all involved. The negative outcome is seen as the inevitable result of the child’s poor judgment and lack of maturity. Children just don’t know enough not to post certain images online.
The law often makes children’s consent irrelevant in order to protect them. Sexting is considered to be inappropriate or “wrong” behavior. It needs to be stopped and the children protected. It doesn’t matter if the sexting is consensual.
“It’s argued that if children were mature, then they wouldn’t be sexting or making these decisions,” said Simpson. “But it works against a maturing child to impose control. You’re a child until you’re 18 and then suddenly you’ve become an adult and can do as you like.”
What is needed is the recognition that children are maturing. As children get older, they become more independent and want to make their own decisions, including decisions about sexual choices.
“A five year-old does not have the same capacity to make decisions as a 15 year-old,” said Simpson. “We live in an age where we want to control our children. But we have to give a child the right to make mistakes. At the end of the day we’re trying to create mature, caring adults.”
The protection model has sometimes had the opposite effect. Children who have participated in sexting have been criminalized, charged with possession of child pornography and added to a list of sex offenders.
We need to re-think consent and ask: how is consent being used? According to Simpson, the legal construct of consent can actually be used to disempower children by limiting their autonomy, questioning their judgment and denying them the right to control their own bodies and their own lives.
“Who controls a child’s body and why?” asked Simpson. “What if we begin with the right of children to have control over their own bodies?”
Brian Simpson will be presenting this research on May 28 at the 2016 Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary. This presentation is called “Sexting by Minors: By Consent of by Right?” and will take place at 3:15 pm at Murray Fraser - 3330 at the University of Calgary.
About the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress is the largest interdisciplinary conference in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. Now in its 85th year, Congress brings together approximately 70 academic associations that represent a rich spectrum of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including literature, history, theatre, film studies, education, music, sociology, geography, social work and many others. Congress 2016 is hosted by the University of Calgary. For more information, visit congress2016.ca.
About the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences promotes research and teaching for the advancement of an inclusive, democratic and prosperous society. With a membership now comprising over 160 universities, colleges and scholarly associations, the Federation represents a diverse community of 91,000 researchers and graduate students across Canada. The Federation organizes Canada’s largest academic gathering, the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, bringing together more than 8,000 participants each year. For more information about the Federation, visit ideas-idees.ca.
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