A proposed law in Colorado that would reduce the criminal penalties associated with sending nude images over text message is being questioned by some who believe that a lesser sentence could possibly cause some teenagers to break the law.
The new bill would reduce the penalty associated with sexting, bringing it down from a felony to a class two misdemeanor for electronically “distributing, displaying… publishing… or possessing, a sexually explicit image of himself or herself or of another juvenile.”
Current statutes can view certain forms of underage sexting to be child pornography. As such, it brings with it a felony charge requiring those who are convicted to register as a sex offender in addition to serving up to six years in prison, including teenagers who take and send photographs of themselves.
“This bill proposes a change that we’re going to call ‘misuse of electronic images.’ It doesn’t even carry the title ‘sexting’ — the end result being, at the end of the day, when this juvenile progresses to adulthood, that case can be sealed from the public,” said District Attorney George Brauchler.
HB 1058 would turn the punishment for underage sexting into a misdemeanor referred to as “misuse of electronic images by a juvenile.” Those who are convicted do not need to register as a sex offender but still face between three and twelve months of jail time. Groups are concerned that the lighter sentence could encourage prosecution.
An anonymous tip last year led to the discovery a large sexting scandal at Colorado’s Canon City High School. Students had taken hundreds of inappropriate photographs and shared them with each other, but in the end, prosecutors decided not to file any charges.
Amy Hasinoff, assistant professor and author of “Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy and Consent,” said she feels the new law will only make the situation worse. While it seems like a good idea, she said that many prosecutors are unwilling to use child pornography laws against teenagers.
Julie and Will Piller of Lafayette, Colorado have said their children told them that sexting is an everyday part of modern teenage life. “It’s more widespread than I think we’d like to think it is,” Julie said.
She went on to discuss her own concerns with the new bill, saying that it could cause more children to be prosecuted because it holds a lesser charge. She said having this happen will not teach children the lesson that they should be learning.
The proposed bill does give teenagers some protection. They have the ability to defend themselves if they can provide proof that “reasonable steps” were taken in a timely manner to destroy, delete, or report any of the explicit images they had received. However, Jacob Sullum for Reason.com brings up the point that this does not cover the teenager who is exchanging photos with their boyfriend or girlfriend, who still face up to a year in prison.
The felony charge will still remain as an option, although it cannot be filed alongside the misdemeanor charge based on the same images.
If approved, the bill would become law on July 1st.