For all of the rhetoric around crime victims’ rights at the General Assembly, it’s hard to believe that any legislation that harms victims could ever be passed. But that’s exactly what happened two weeks ago. And it happened twice.
Two weeks ago, the legislature passed House Bill 815, and the governor signed it on Thursday, now Act 198 of 2012. This bill creates a new crime of teen “sexting.” You’re probably familiar with sexting by now, but if not, it is a term used to describe a wide range of activity that involves photos, sex, and electronic communication. Basketball fans, think Greg Oden.
Act 198 creates summary and misdemeanor offenses that involve sexting by kids between the ages of 13 and 17. The charge is based on the circumstances of the activity.
Imagine this scenario. Two 17-year-olds are dating and send pictures of themselves in various stages of undress. Newsflash: Teens are clumsy with their sexuality. Teens have been exploring their sexuality since our species evolved and don’t always do it in a mature way. That’s not exactly earth-shattering news.
So she dumps him. In anger, he sends her semi-nude photo to the entire school. She’s a victim of abuse, right? Well, under Act 198, she’s a criminal because she produced the photo and sent it to her then-boyfriend. She could be charged with a summary offense.
There have been some tragic incidents that have involved teens sexting. And the supporters of HB 815, including the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, have used these incidents to push for this bill. The DAs used these incidents in which kids were abused to push for a bill- now law- that will criminalize these victims, which will only compound their suffering. Incredibly, some so-called victims’ advocacy groups supported the bill, too.
Supporters of HB 815 claim that all sexting by teens (under the age of 18) is currently felony child pornography, even if the person in the photo also produced it. The DAs think that if they say something is a crime, then it’s a crime.
They fail to respect the role of the judge in our judicial system. Not a single court in Pennsylvania has upheld a felony charge in a sexting situation. Not one.
So, parents, make sure that sexting is part of The Talk with your kids. And in Pennsylvania, be sure that they understand that sexting, even if it’s consensual, could lead to a visit from their local DA, who apparently is more concerned about what teens do in their bedrooms than he is about real criminals.
A second post is coming about how the legislature and the governor harmed victims with ill-advised legislation.