Pennsylvania Lawmakers Tackle Teen Sexting

Posted August 4, 2010 in Criminal Law by Arthur Buono

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has taken up a new bill to tackle the thorny issue of teen sexting. One the one hand, the lawmakers want to give sexting kids a break, and not prosecute them as child pornographers. On the other hand, the lawmakers really would prefer it if kids did not send so many naughty pictures of themselves via cell phones.

  • Sexting teens send nude pictures of themselves via cell phone or internet
  • Teens accused of child pornography recently won an important court ruling
  • PA bill would making sexting a crime, with exception for simply nude pics
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Sexting Law Seeks to Protect Kids and Their Rights

Sexting, of course, includes teens’ habit of sending nude pictures – or worse – of themselves or other teens to friends. "Of course," because most parents say they know what sexting is, but doubt their own kids do it. This is not to make light of sexting at all, because it carries the potential for much social embarrassment and mortification. Most unfortunately, at least one kid has committed suicide over it. With the confused mix of state laws applicable to sexting, minors also run a grave risk of prosecution under child pornography laws. Convictions carry harsh consequences, including registration as a sex offender.

Minors have free speech rights too, though, and anti-sexting laws crash up against this principle. Pennsylvania House Bill 2189 responds partly to a district attorney’s abandoned threat to prosecute three minors under the state’s child pornography statute. They turned the tables and sued him for violating the minors’ free speech rights, as well as their parents’ rights to direct their kids’ moral upbringing. The judge ruled for the kids and the parents. The judge did not say that the kids had the right to sext nude images of themselves. The judge did say the threat to prosecute the kids if they did not write an essay in detention hall about what they did wrong violated their rights, and their parents’.

House Bill 2189 would make it a crime for kids to send sexually explicit pictures of themselves or other kids via cell phone or the internet. "Sexually explicit" includes nude pictures, if the point of the picture is to arouse or gratify sexually someone who sees them. But it would be OK to send simply nude pictures – meaning ones having a purpose other than sexual. This supposedly avoids teens’ First Amendment rights to send simply nude pictures of themselves through cyberspace. It also gets the state out of the realm of parents, who should tell their kids not to take and send nude pictures of themselves in the first place. But your kids don’t do this, right?

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