Teens, Sexting, and the Potential for a Lengthy Prison Sentence

Recently it was announced the House of Representatives had passed a bill that could effectively leave teenagers facing 15 years in prison for doing something many teens do – sexting, or sending messages or photos via mobile devices that are sexually explicit in nature. The measure was called “deadly and counterproductive” by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime who said the bill, although well intended, will ultimately punish our children, the very people the it is designed to protect. shutterstock_106035773-300x200

Michigan Rep. Justin Amash was one of only two Republicans who voted against the bill; a spokesperson from his office said Amash opposes mandatory minimum expansions and crimes already prosecuted at the state level. Additionally, H.R. 1761 or the “Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017” reportedly prohibits some conduct that Congress is not allowed to regulate under the Constitution.

The new bill builds on existing law making teen-to-teen sexting a crime. At the present time any person who violates the sexting law may be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison, and possibly up to 30 years. This is the punishment for first-time offenders; the penalties for second- or third-time offenders is even more serious.

Most teens have participated in sexting, although the majority of them don’t realize the potential consequences – that it could leave them facing time behind bars. According to a Drexel University study in 2014, more than 60% of undergrads who had engaged in sexting as teens had no idea their actions violated child pornography laws. Nearly half said they had sexted as teens, and nearly a third said their sexting activities had included photos.

While the revised law wouldn’t read in a substantially different way from the old law, it’s often difficult for those who aren’t in the legal or political field to make sense of the wording or what the law actually means. In essence, the changes would mean teens could face 15 years behind bars not only for actually sending or receiving “sext” material, but even attempting (whether successfully or unsuccessfully) to send or receive such material. While it’s likely many prosecutors would offer a plea deal in which the teen is given probation, community service, and alternatives to prison time, the teen would become a registered sex offender.

Imagine how being labeled a sex offender would impact a teen’s life – forever. Not only would it impact his or her life socially, but in countless other ways including employment opportunities, housing, even getting an education.

Ultimately, the proposed changes expand mandatory minimum sentences – and should a teen who isn’t aware he or she is violating the law live behind prison bars for 15 years? 53 Democrats voted against the bill, some calling the legislation “particularly appalling.” What’s your view on the matter?

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