When the Thurston County prosecutor's office charged three Lacey middle-schoolers with dissemination of child pornography last year, it seemed like an over-the-top reaction to a sexting debacle wrought by the kids. Yes, the students had inexcusably humiliated a 14-year-old by broadcasting a naked picture of the girl meant for her boyfriend's eyes only. But did they really deserve to be locked up and registered as sex offenders? No. But a gripping New York Times piece on the case yesterday reveals that Thurston County's approach was craftier than it looked.
Rick Peters, the prosecuting attorney, never intended for the Chinook Middle School students to receive draconian sentences. But he wanted to send a scared-straight message to them, as well as to the community.
In due time, Peters lessened the charge to telephone harassment, a misdemeanor. Rather than do time in a detention facility, the kids were ordered to create public-service material about the dangers of sexting and to attend a facilitated session with the girl they had harmed, named Margarite.
The approach seems to have worked, particularly when it came to Margarite's now-ex-boyfriend, Isaiah. The Times offers a moving account of his participation in the facilitated session, which was observed by a math teacher named Eric Fredericks.
He looked Margarite in the eye. "He poured his heart out," Mr. Fredericks recalled. Isaiah said that he was ashamed of himself, but that most of all, he was sorry he had broken Margarite's trust. Then he asked for her understanding and forgiveness. "He cried," Mr. Fredericks said. "I choked up."
And now, thanks to the Times and its portrait of how all the kids involved were haunted by the episode, the lesson that Peters wanted to teach Isaiah and his friends is becoming one spread around the country.