When the legislature passed and the governor signed legislation to create a new crime of underage teen “sexting,” the ACLU of Pennsylvania and its allies like the Juvenile Law Center and the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society warned that a teen couple that privately sends sexually suggestive photos to each other would get caught up in the new law and that a teen’s bedroom is no place for the government. Supporters insisted to me that those kinds of situations would never make it to a district attorney.
We were right, and they were wrong. In Westmoreland County, just a week after the new law went into effect, a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy have been cited. Their “crime”? According to press reports, the girl sent the boy a topless picture of herself. He looked at it, because he’s a 14-year-old boy and that’s what they do, and then deleted it.
Here’s the money quote, from Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck, as reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
“I think a summary offense is more appropriate in most incidents,” Peck said.
This DA has such a lack of perspective, he’s so intertwined in government power and thinks that being cited for criminal activity is no big deal if it’s for a lesser offense, that he can’t see the damage that can be done in citing a 13-year-old girl, whose picture has now been seen by numerous adults, and a 14-year-old boy for the “crime” of exploring their sexuality, something that teenagers have done since our species evolved.
And, putting the juvenile justice piece aside, there are free speech questions here, too. Our legal director tells me that we will look to challenge this law in court if this is how it is going to be applied.
Sexting by minor teenagers is risky behavior. It’s behavior best addressed by parents and educators, not the government. But people in government don’t get that. They’re too busy playing the morality police.
Aside: The press dropped the ball here, too. No court in Pennsylvania has upheld a felony charge in a sexting situation, but all three outlets linked above- the Trib, the AP, and WTAE-TV- said that this would have previously been a felony.