Pennsylvania deciding whether 'sexting', common among teens, is porn and preparing a law against it

Technology meets the raging hormones of teenagers who, in this digital world, use their computing devices to send nude or semi-nude photos to each other as a courtship ritual. This is aptly called 'sexting'.

The current laws in Pennsylvania say that it can be construed as possessing child pornography and warrants a felony charge. However, the ACLU and others disagree and say this is protected freedom of expression.

The challenge to parents and legal officials now is to rewrite the laws so that kids are given a 'punishment' that fits the crime. Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) now has the task of deciding whether it's a crime to send nude photos to the guy you like at school and what the charges will be if caught.

Should there be a law against 'sexting?' What, if any, charges would suit it if it were a crime? What do you think about 'sexting?'

Amplify’d from www.philly.com

Pa. working to outlaw teen 'sexting'

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.

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.

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."

In 2009, MaryJo Miller was told by the Wyoming County district attorney that he had a cell-phone photo of her 15-year-old daughter, Marissa, posing "fully nude" with another girl. Further, Marissa was facing child-pornography charges along with 15 other students at Tunkhannock Area High caught up in a "sexting" sweep.

But when Miller took one look at the photo that the district attorney pushed across his desk, she breathed a sigh of relief.

He couldn't be serious, Miller thought. The photo had been taken three years earlier, at Marissa's slumber party. There she was with her friend, shot from the waist up, both in training bras. Marissa was talking on the phone. Her friend was making a peace sign.

How, asked Miller and her ex-husband, could this be construed as pornography? Had the district attorney seen a Sears catalog? Had he ever walked by a Victoria's Secret store?

But the district attorney, George Skumanick Jr., wasn't kidding. He threatened to press charges unless Marissa took "reeducation classes" and confessed to her crime. The Millers fought back, winning their case in March in a federal court in Philadelphia.

Valerie Burch, an ACLU lawyer who represented the Millers and three other students, said none of the photos she is defending constitutes pornography. Pictures of breasts do not qualify as pornography, nor does a bare bottom.

Prosecutors with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which backed Grove's bill, argue that the lack of a clear sexting statute puts them in a tough spot.

Jeff Mitchell, the new Wyoming County district attorney, said that when dealing with a critical sexting case, "for prosecutors the only option is to charge on child pornography, which is not feasible. It's too harsh."

"The statute was intended for adults who compile pornographic images of children," said Mitchell, who became district attorney in January, after defeating Skumanick. "This is children having images of themselves or peers and they're texting them back and forth."

Anne Collier, codirector of ConnectSafely.org, a nonprofit online youth-safety organization, said sexting was really the modern version of spin the bottle, or truth or dare.

In the Miller case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit established precedent in ruling that if the text is not child pornography but rather protected by the First Amendment, a district attorney may not file child-pornography charges, Burch said.

"It warns district attorneys that just because it's teens sending sexy pictures of themselves," said Burch, "they better not jump on the kids . . . unless they . . . established that that was child pornography."

The fate of Pennsylvania's sexting bill now sits with the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R., Montgomery).

"What I'm trying to do is provide an alternative so that the prosecuting attorney can file something against them if appropriate without giving them a criminal record," Greenleaf said.

In the interim, prosecutors, principals, and parents are left to navigate a complicated cyberworld on their own.

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