Earlier this week, the state House passed legislation, House Bill 2189, to create a new crime called “sexting.” Sexting is when someone, often a teenager (although apparently senior citizens and pro athletes are doing it, too), sends photos of him- or herself in various stages of undress or engaged in sexual activity to another person or persons via electronic communication. HB 2189 makes it a misdemeanor for a minor to engage in sexting if the photos involve nudity and were sent for the purpose of sexual stimulation. It’s a summary offense if the photo was sent to one other person and the sender had a reason to believe that the recipient wanted to receive the photo, e.g. the teenage couple sharing pics with each other.
Under this bill, the transmission or dissemination of photos of a minor engaged in sex acts, including transmitting a photo of one’s self, could still be prosecuted under the felony child pornography statute.
Look, let’s face it, teenagers are going to dumb things. They’re at an age where they are increasingly aware of their sexuality, and, at the same time, their brains are at a stage of development where they don’t yet have the ability to stop irrational behavior 100% of the time.
You show me an adult who didn’t do foolish things as a teen, and I’ll show you an adult with amnesia.
HB 2189 is simply wrong-headed. Turning our kids into criminals for their clumsy behavior is cruel. Addressing teen misbehavior is a job for parents and educators, not prosecutors.
And the bill is based on the false premise, stoked by some reps and district attorneys, that all sexting by minors is currently a felony, a point that is repeated, ad nauseum, by the media. In fact, if the photos only involve nudity and the production and distribution of the photos is consensual, it’s protected expression under the First Amendment.
Fittingly, there is a bill to ensure that teen sexuality is addressed in a constructive fashion. House Bill 1163, the Healthy Youth Act, would set minimum standards on sex education for Pennsylvania’s public schools. HB 1163 would guarantee that students receive medically-accurate sex ed. The curricula that would pass muster under this bill would emphasize that abstinence is the only 100% effective of way to stop pregnancy and the transmission of STDs and would teach kids science-based information about contraception.
House Bill 1163 is neatly tucked away in the House Appropriations Committee, and many observers think that’s exactly where it’s going to stay because the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Jeffrey Piccola, has said that he won’t consider the bill.
So to recap, the state House has passed a bill to turn kids into criminals for their clumsy sexual behavior and is simultaneously burying a bill to constructively teach kids about their sexuality, with the Senate Education Committee chairman as an accomplice.
In a word, this is a disgrace.
Andy in Harrisburg
(The poster above comes from a series of hilarious sex ed posters posted on Huffington Post earlier this week.)