Real Crime - - Contents -

In­cred­i­bly, these two were charged with sex­u­ally ex­ploit­ing their younger selves

Ahigh school s tu­dent was sus­pended from his foot­ball team, faced jail time and was at risk of be­com­ing a reg­is­tered sex of­fender af­ter he was found to ha ve im­ages of a nak ed young man on his phone . Who was this vic­tim? Him­self . 17- year- old Cormega Copen­ing fr om Fayet­teville, North Carolina had taken naked ‘ self­ies’ with his cam­era phone when he w as 16. The im­ages had been s tored on his phone e ver since and only shared with his then- 16- year- old girl­friend Bri­anna Den­son. He also had a naked im­age of his girl­friend on the phone , which hadn’t been shared. Po­lice found the im­ages in Oc­to­ber 201 4 when search­ing Cormega’s phone dur­ing an in ves­ti­ga­tion into an un­re­lated of­fence – al­le­ga­tions of sex­u­ally ex­plicit im­ages be­ing shar ed at his school ( Dou­glas Byrd High School) with­out the per­mis­sion of the sub­ject. Cormega turned out not to be in volved in the in­ci­dent but was ar­rested for the sen­si­tiv e ma­te­rial on his phone. Bri­anna was also arr ested for hav­ing im­ages on her phone . Be­cause the tw o were 16 at the time the ‘ of­fences’ were com­mit­ted they were charged as adults , as per North Carolina’s child ex­ploita­tion laws.

How is it a crime to ha ve naked im­ages on your phone of y our­self, you may rightly ask? Both of the teens’ tri­als made ref­er­ences to ‘ sex­ting’ but the main char ges against them re­lated to the tak­ing and k eep­ing of their own im­ages. In North Carolina the age of con­sent for sex­ual in­ter­course is 1 6, yet Cormega and Bri­anna’s ‘ crimes’ re­lated to the pro­duc­tion and shar­ing of nak ed im­ages, which you must by law be over the age of 18 to con­sent to. Cormega’s at­tor­ney said that he and his col­leagues , who had dis­cussed the bizarre case at length, had found “zer o ex­am­ples” of un­der- 18s be­ing charged for hav­ing a naked im­age of them­selv es on their own phone. Re­gard­less of how ridicu­lous it sounds, the young lovers were charged with crimes re­lat­ing to the sex­ual ex­ploita­tion of mi­nors. The charges meant each party was si­mul­ta­ne­ously a preda­tory adult per­pe­tra­tor and the mi­nor vic­tim in need of be­ing pro­tected by the law.

Fed­eral child abuse im­age felon y laws ( passed in 1983) ap­ply to e very state in the US. De­spite this ,20 states have en­acted leg­is­la­tion, of­ten nick­named ‘ Romeo and Juliet’ laws, to avoid pros­e­cut­ing teenagers who ex­change naked pic­tures with each other as a cou­ple dur­ing a pe­riod of time , where there is no ex­ploita­tion in­volved. In many states across the US, in­clud­ing North Carolina, leg­is­la­tion against‘ sex ting’ is in place to mit­i­gate the charges of child abuse im­age laws, which can af­fect con­sen­sual teenage lovers. On­line safety ad­vo­cates have voiced their con­cerns for out­dated laws, which were made be­fore the use of mo­bile phones and be­fore ‘ sex­ting’ was a way for con­sent­ing teenage lover store main in­ti­mate in their re­la­tion­ships.

In July 2015 Bri­anna took a plea deal to avoid be­ing con­victed of felon y charges and ad­mit­ted to a mis­de­meanour charge of ‘ dis­sem­i­nat­ing harm­ful ma­te­rial to mi­nors’. She was put on pro­ba­tion for one year and or­dered to pay $200 in court costs, stay in school, re­frain from us­ing il­le­gal drugs and al­co­hol, take a class in mak­ing good de­ci­sions and do 30 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice . She was also banned from hav­ing a mo­bile for one year. In Septem­ber, Cormega took a sim­i­lar plea deal. Both were promised that if they com­plied with the terms of their deals , then their records would be wiped af­ter a year. In 2016 it was re­ported that all crim­i­nal charges against the teenagers had been dropped. Cormega’s par­ents have voiced their in­ten­tions to push for a change in the law un­der which their son was charged.

Cormega Copen­ing w as c harged with tw o counts of sec­ond- de gree and three counts of third- de gree sex­ual ex­ploita tion of a mi­nor – af­ter tak­ing ima ges of him­self

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