A bill to reform felony criminal sex offense laws for teens accused of “sexting” has passed the Illinois Senate.
As the Chicago Tribune reports, teens who send explicit photos to other teens can be charged with felony distribution of child pornography offenses under current law.
Clearly, the laws as written were designed to punish child pornographers, not teens acting impulsively and stupidly. Few people believe that a teen sending a picture of himself or herself, or simply receiving or possessing a photo sent to him should result in harsh sentences targeted at child predators. But that is exactly what could happen if the law was applied as written.
Sexting law reform is a hot topic across the nation. In addition to criminal penalties, teens could face a lifetime as registered sex offenders, doing incalculable damage to a persons job prospects and future.
Under the reforms in the bill, criminal charges would be of the table. Teens would be dealt with in juvenile court, and face counseling and community service. A juvenile court incident is something that can be sealed or expunged, so as not to be an ongoing burden for a young person who makes a dumb mistake, and learns from it.
Clearly, our child pornography laws were written before the time that every teen had access to a cell phone camera and means to distribute pictures on an adolescent impulse. So this bill is a smart idea, and reflects the realities of the lives kids lead today.
Update: Good commentary over at Ars Technica.