teenage sexting prison

The U.S. House Recently Passed a Bill to Punish Teenage Sexting with 15 Years in Prison

Every day, countless American teens with smartphones and other mobile devices send each other sexy pictures of their chests and genitals. A majority of the U.S. House of Representatives would like these adolescent smut peddlers to rot in federal prison for distributing child pornography, and they’ve just approved a bill to help make it so!

Yes, really.

The bill is called the Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017, it was sponsored by Republican Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson and it was passed with large bipartisan support in the House on May 25, 2017 by a vote of 368 – 51.

To understand what’s wrong with the bill, let’s turn to Democratic Virginia Representative Bobby Scott who said, during the bill’s hearing:

“Under this law, teenagers who engage in consensual conduct and send photos of a sexual nature to their friends or even to each other may be prosecuted and the judge must sentence them to at least 15 years in prison… the law explicitly states that the mandatory minimums will apply equally to an attempt or a conspiracy.”

When Scott says “an attempt or conspiracy,” he means that if 15-year-old boy just asks their 15-year-old boyfriend or girlfriend to send a picture of their genitals, they’re already guilty of a crime, even before they get a picture. And if the boyfriend or girlfriend sends the picture, they’re guilty of a crime too.

Ostensibly, the bill is intended to punish child pornographers, but as it’s currently written, the bill would effect the 18% to 22% of teens that sext — that’s roughly 7.5 to 9.1 million teens, more than the entire population of New York City.

The bill’s supporters say that prosecutors won’t use the law to go after teenage sexters, but Democratic Michign U.S. House Representative John Conyers, Jr. says that promise isn’t good enough:

“Given the new [tough on crime] policy of the Attorney General, we are under a new regime here at the federal level, and I can’t depend on relying on the prosecutorial discretion to protect juveniles under this statute.”

While sexting among teenagers can be troublesome — sex columnist Dan Savage points out that “Slut shaming combined with sexts weaponized as revenge porn have also led to suicides” — a bill that criminalizes healthy teenage sexual behavior with prison time and a lifetime on the sex offender registry isn’t the way to handle either sexting or child pornography.

(Featured image by LeoPatrizi via iStock Photography)