When Adults Fail Children—For Life

The Iowa Supreme Court has affirmed the conviction of 18-year-old Jorge Canal, who complied with a 14-year-old friend’s request for a photo of his penis. The young man is now forced to register as a sex offender, meaning his chances of getting a college degree, job, or livable apartment are pretty much ended.

According to the court, the girl “generally hung out with teenagers older than herself;” was “only friends” with Canal; thought the picture was sent “only as a joke;” and was not “a means to excite any feelings.” Nevertheless, Canal was convicted of “knowingly disseminating obscene material to a minor.”

Canal was a foolish kid. But there are many ugly, stupid, irresponsible adults in this story. The girl’s mother, who checked her daughter’s e-mail and internet use, found the photo and forwarded it to her husband. The father then showed the photo to his friend, a police officer. The cop arranged to have Canal arrested. A prosecutor pursued the case, a judge tried it, a jury convicted. These adults failed Canal and his friend miserably. His ruined life will be a testament to their fear, insecurity, and hatred.

All these adults were supposedly attempting to protect Iowa’s young people–by punishing this kid who was fooling around with a pal.

So let’s spend a moment in the real world (which none of these adults seem to inhabit). Which is likely to hurt this 14-year-old girl more—seeing a 2-square-inch photo of a friend’s erect penis, or being the reason that this friend will spend time in jail and decades as a registered sex offender? Her life is now ruined (in addition, of course, to his), because of her criminally negligent parents, criminally ambitious prosecutor, and 12 jury members who failed to protect people who needed justice but received only wrath.

Americans should understand the horrors of our obscenity laws: a picture or word or object is obscene only after a jury decides that it is. And a jury can decide that ANY picture, word, or object is obscene. So no one can know for sure what’s obscene until it’s too late. This is exactly like laws against “hooliganism” in places like Russia that we rightly deride.

The judge in Canal’s case had rightly told the jury that “a depiction of a person’s genitals was not in and of itself obscene. In order for the depiction of a person’s genitals to be obscene, an average person applying contemporary community standards with respect to what is suitable material for minors must find the material is patently offensive, appeals to the prurient interest, and lacks serious literary, scientific, political, or artistic value.” At that point, the picture becomes illegal, and sharing it with someone else becomes a crime.

A jury of twelve Americans destroyed Jorge Canal’s life because they believed that a picture of his erect penis is “patently offensive.” I hope each of them never gets a good night’s sleep for the rest of their lives.

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