Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pa. working to outlaw teen 'sexting'

Philadelphia Inquirer
August 2, 2010

Seth Grove first heard about the "sexting" problem from his wife: nude photos of teens spinning from one student's cell phone to the next.

There was a boy from Florida charged with a felony for sending around a photo of his girlfriend after they had a fight; a girl in Ohio who hanged herself after her ex-boyfriend shared a photo of her.

"And then it happened in my alma mater high school," said Grove, a state representative from York County. Eighteen students were suspended last year after pictures of two girls at Spring Grove Area High were circulated to the boy's soccer team.

That should be against the law, Grove thought.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania joined 20 other states to consider legislation prohibiting minors from sexting - electronically sending sexually explicit photos or text.

Grove's bill would impose a range of penalties, from a summary offense much like a traffic ticket to felony charges.

The goal, said Grove, a Republican, is not to send children to juvenile jail for petty pranks but to create a law to protect them from themselves - and one another.

"We want to make sure these pictures don't victimize kids even more," Grove said.

But opponents near and far say criminalizing this behavior is unnecessary and violates free expression and privacy rights.

"The way this bill is written, constitutionally protected activity is criminalized," said Andy Hoover, legislative director for ACLU of Pennsylvania.

"So in the scenario where a teenage couple is sharing pictures with each other, and they involve only nudity, not sex acts, they can be charged."

If passed, he said, the sexting law would allow the government to overly intrude in children's lives.

"Teaching kids about their sexuality is the job that belongs to parents and educators, not prosecutors."