Teen “sexting” in Pennsylvania

    Pennsylvania teens accused of “sexting” can be charged with a felony. WHYY reports that some state lawmakers think that’s too harsh.

    Pennsylvania teens accused of “sexting” can be charged with a felony. WHYY reports that some state lawmakers think that’s too harsh.

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    When teens use a cell phone to send nude or sexually explicit pictures of themselves, prosecutors can charge them with distributing child pornography, which is a felony. A bill in the Pennsylvania legislature makes teen sexting a misdemeanor, with lighter legal consequences.

    The Juvenile Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania are working to defeat the bill. Opponents say minors shouldn’t become criminals for a foolish, youthful indiscretion. They say it doesn’t matter that the bill would make sexting only a misdemeanor.

    Dr. Rollyn Orstein with Hershey Medical Center specializes in treating adolescents.

    Orstein: It’s quite typical for them to become more adventuresome and experiment in many areas including sexually, it’s how they figure out who they are in this world. It’s a normal part of adolescent psychological development and sexting is just the newest venue by which they can express themselves in this way.

    Pennsylvania’s House Judiciary committee was set to take up the sexting bill this week, but the vote was postponed until early March.

    The Chief Counsel for the committee says she’s taking another look at the bill to address the ACLU’s concerns but says there are no plans to back away from the idea that teen sexting is a crime.

    When Pennsylvania lawmaker Seth Grove pitched the bill he was looking to go a little easier on teens. He says a misdemeanor charge is more appropriate than a felony. Opponents say teen sexting is not crime at all, but rather a big lapse in judgment that should be handled within families.

    Representative Grove says Pennsylvania needs some kind of legal deterrent to sexting.

    Grove: Well, if you don’t criminalized it, you don’t really have any way of stopping kids from doing it. They can just say, ‘There’s no repercussions, we can still do this.’ So, please continue taking naked pictures of yourself and sending them out there to the global world. That’s not the message we want to send our youth.

    The ACLU’s legal director, Vic Walczak, says the proposal broadens the definition of child pornography. Walczak says right now child pornography is limited to sexual activity or lewd or lascivious displays. He says the teen sexting bill would turn simple nudity into pornography.

    Walczak: If a teenager transmitted an image of a naked child from a National Geographic or a Renoir nude. They would all be committing a crime under this bill. Such a broad sweep makes the law unconstitutional.

    The Pennsylvania House Judiciary committee has postponed a vote on the bill. Chief Counsel for the committee says she’s taking another look at the bill to address the ACLU’s concerns but says there are no plans to back away from the idea that sexting is a crime.

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