Pennsylvania Sexting Update

Juvenile Law Center,

In the current Pennsylvania legislative session, two bills have been introduced to provide for the offense of sexting. The bills provide for very different approaches to teen sexting. Juvenile Law Center strongly opposes House Bill 815, while endorsing Senate Bill 850. A summary and comparison of the Bills is below.

Senate Bill 850—Greenleaf (R-Willow Grove)

Introduced Marsh 16, 2011, S.B. 850 creates the offense of cyberbullying and sexting. Under this Bill, a minor who transmits or disseminates an electronic message, including an image of himself or herself or another minor in a state of nudity, with intent to coerce, intimidate, harm, or otherwise cause emotional distress to another individual will be charged with a misdemeanor in the third degree. Juvenile Law Center supports S.B. 850 because it gets to the true dangers of sexting and cyberbullying—when images are posted or shared nonconsensually with the intent to harm another individual.

House Bill 815—Grove (R-York)

Introduced February 24, 2011, H.B. 815 creates a sexting offense for which only minors can be prosecuted. Under this Bill, a minor can be charged with a 2nd degree misdemeanor if he/she transmits, disseminates, or possesses a photo of himself or herself or another minor engaged in "sexually explicit conduct." Sexually explicit conduct is defined as "lewd or lascivious exhibition of the minor's genitals, pubic area, breasts or buttocks or nudity if such nudity is depicted for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification of any person who might view such depiction."

H.B. 815 criminalizes both the consensual exchange of photos and the nonconsensual dissemination of photos with the intent to harm another individual in the same way. Juvenile Law Center opposes H.B. 815 because it fails to account for the differences between consensual conduct and nonconsensual conduct. Teen sexting is certainly risky, adolescent behavior. But arresting teens for risky behaviors where there is no intent to harm is not the purpose of our justice system. Not only will this be ineffective in deterring the behavior, but where no harm was intended, these harsh measures will create multiple, unnecessary barriers to success for the teen; stigmatize, embarrass and humiliate the teen; and deter victims from reporting real crimes for fear of prosecution, thereby further victimizing them.

Comparison of Chargeable Offenses Under S.B. 850 and H.B. 815

15-year-old Jane sends a topless photo of herself to her boyfriend, Josh. Jane subsequently breaks up with Josh. Out of anger, Josh forwards Jane's photo, without consent, to 17 of his friends.

S.B. 850: Josh is charged with a 3rd degree misdemeanor; Jane is not charged.

H.B. 815: Jane is charged with a 2nd degree misdemeanor; Josh is charged with a 2nd degree misdemeanor.

Emma is 14 years old. She would like to be in a relationship with 16-year-old Steven. Steven has asked Emma repeatedly to send him a photo of herself naked. Emma does not want to, but knows Steven will not date her unless he receives it. Emma sends Steven a photo and Steven immediately sends it to Jill, who posts it on Facebook.

S.B. 850: Steven is charged with a 3rd degree misdemeanor; Jill is charged with a 3rd degree misdemeanor; Emma is not charged.

H.B. 815: Emma is charged with a 2nd degree misdemeanor; Steven is charged with a 2nd degree misdemeanor; Jill is charged with a 2nd degree misdemeanor.

 

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JESSICA FEIERMAN AND ALEX R. PIQUERO, The Kansas City Star •