Lawmakers Backing Off Harsh Punishments for Sexting Teens

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lawmakers Backing Off Harsh Punishments for Sexting Teens

In the past year, I've posted numerous times about sexting. In fact, a year ago today, my post was "Sexting Teenagers Face Child-Porn Charges" where I commented that law enforcement needed to find ways to make the punishment fit the crime. It seemed then, as it does now, inappropriate to classify adolescents who sexted as sexual offenders and felons on equal footing with rapists and child molesters.

Today it appears that lawmakers around the country are attempting to do just this, establishing laws and punishments that address the specific nature of adolescent sexting. There's more work to be done on this, but it seems to me that the movements are in the right direction.

"Sexting" became a household word last year after four Pennsylvania teens were charged with disseminating and possessing child pornography after it was discovered that several students had exchanged nude pictures of themselves via cell phone. A federal court ruled last week that felony child pornography charges could not be pursued in this particular case, but state lawmakers around the country are looking to address the issue by making penalties better fit the "crime" for minors caught sexting.

The Illinois State Senate last week passed a bill that would limit penalties for minors that share nude or sexually explicit photos via cell phone or computer. Doing so would be classified as a misdemeanor, and minors would be sent to juvenile court for counseling and possible community service.

Connecticut lawmakers are considering similar legislation as well.

Florida is also considering legislation that would classify sexting between minors as a specific crime separate from existing child pornography statutes.

So far, 15 states have legislation on the table to address sexting in one form or another. Many states are attempting to specifically add it as a crime as part of cyberstalking or child pornography (when it includes images of minor-aged children) laws. However, several of the laws are attempting to address the issue when it comes to teens engaging in sexting. Some measures encourage adopting programs to educate teens about the dangers of sexting, while others de-criminalize the act as the Illinois, Connecticut, and Florida bills would. Similar measures were passed last year in Utah, Nebraska, and Vermont.

Source: ars tecnica