When Levar Allen, a 17-year-old high school athlete in Bossier City, Louis., received a sexually explicit video from his girlfriend, he responded in kind with a racy video of his own.
What Allen didn't know at the time was that his sext would eventually get him charged with possession of child pornography. According to Allen's parents, local authorities are focusing on the teenager and not his girlfriend specifically because of his race. Allen is black and his girlfriend is white.
Fusion wouldn't typically run Allen's name because he's a minor, but under Louisiana law, at 17 he's considered old enough to be tried as an adult.
"A little girl sent him a video, she was 16. He sent her a video and he got charged,” Allen’s mother, Chasity Washington, told KSLA News. "I think because she's white, the parents got upset that she's been doing what she's been doing."
According to the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office, the reasoning behind their decision to charge Allen for the explicit exchange has nothing to do with his race and everything to do with his age: In Louisiana, Allen's girlfriend is still considered to be a minor and despite the fact that she initiated the exchange, having the video still technically counts as possession of child pornography.
"I have nothing to say about that," Lt. Bill Davis, a spokesman for the Bossier police department told KSLA. "It doesn't matter what your race, what your religion, what your ethnicity, don't do child pornography! Plain and simple."
Sexting, researchers are finding, is becoming pretty common with today's teens. A Drexel University survey found that over half of its participants had sent or received “sexually explicit text messages or images” before they were 18. Some kids did it to flirt, while others did it to entice their romantic partners, but nearly all of them agreed that sexting wasn't all that big a deal. The survey's lead, professor David DeMatteo, JD, PhD was shocked at how blasé people were.
“This is a scary and disturbing combination,” said researcher David DeMatteo, JD, PhD. “Given the harsh legal penalties sometimes associated with youth sexting and the apparent frequency with which youth are engaging in it, the lack of comprehension regarding such penalties poses a significant problem.”
A 2014 study out of the University of Texas found similar results. Not only was sexting not new, the researchers concluded, but it was probably a fairly good indicator of adolescent sexual development
"This study extends cross-sectional literature and supports the notion that sexting fits within the context of adolescent sexual development and may be a viable indicator of adolescent sexual activity," the study explained. "[That we] did not find a link between sexting and risky sexual behavior over time may suggest that sexting is a new 'normal' part of adolescent sexual development."
DeMatteo's point about the sexting trend being scary rings true in the context of Allen's situation. Despite the fact that most cases like his rarely go all the way to trial, the stigma attached to his name and reputation could have lasting consequences for his future. Currently, Allen's out of jail on a $15,000 bond and his mother plans to meet with an attorney as the family prepares to for the legal battle ahead of them.