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Teens Can Have Sex in Pa, but 'Sexting' Could be Outlawed

Teens in Pennsylvania could face fines for using their cell phones to send explicit photos.

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG—Under state law, two 17-year olds in Pennsylvania can legally have sexual intercourse, but they might soon face fines if caught sending naked pictures via their cell phones.

Legislation headed to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk would ban minors from engaging in the so-called practice of “sexting,” in which individuals send naked pictures of themselves or others via cell phone or other mobile device.  Offenders could be subject to anything from a summary offense, which involves only a fine, to a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a potential penalty of two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

The bill prohibits judges from sentencing teens to prison if they are caught “sexting,” and the second-degree misdemeanor would only kick-in if the images were being used in an abusive way or to bully someone.

If signed into law, HB 815 will apply to individuals between the ages of 13 and 17, even though the age of consent for sexual activity in Pennsylvania is 16.

The state House voted 188-3 on Wednesday to approve the bill after it passed the state Senate earlier that day by a vote of 37-12.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, who sponsored the bill, said the law was a response to cases in which sexually explicit images were spread beyond the two people involved in the relationship. In York County, a “sexted” picture wound up on a sex offender’s computer, he said.

“It’s not just about two people in a relationship, it’s getting out there,” Grove said.

Under current law, “sexting” would be punished under child pornography laws – if it was punished at all – and since that is a felony, it would follow those teens for the rest of their lives, Grove said.

Since the new offense would be a juvenile offense, it would be eligible to be expunged.

If the picture involved someone younger than 13 or older than 18, it could still be prosecuted under child pornography laws.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango, said the legislation was well-intentioned but ultimately harmful.

“I don’t think these issues belong in criminal court,” she said. “They’re just kids being kids and being stupid. I really think we need to rethink this.”

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, said the measure “makes no sense whatsoever in my opinion.”

The bill also allows police to seize any cell phone used for “sexting” and hold it under the state’s forfeiture laws, which eliminate the owner’s right to the property.

Contact Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.

Jane October 23, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I share the instinct to try to protect our teens, but I agree with Senators White and Ferlo that criminalizing the behavior isn't the way to go and will be ultimately harmful to kids.
The Illuminati October 24, 2012 at 03:25 AM
So they can take their clothes off in private, but if they do it over a text message its criminal? How about this...WORK ON PUTTING PENNSYLVANIANS BACK TO WORK AND STOP WORRYING ABOUT PEOPLES PRIVATE PARTS!
P2YA October 24, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I agree. We can't gain traction on the looming "pension time bomb" or property tax relief in general, but the legislature can focus on largely irrelevant matters such as this.
B. Strong October 24, 2012 at 05:34 PM
less sexting would most likely = less sexual contact. it's definitely a plus in that context. so it should be outlawed. these poor kids need more rules protecting their bodies.
Molly November 01, 2012 at 02:43 AM
People shouldn't sext and all but it's up to them to hit send. They should trust the person enough to sext them
Carol Ann November 02, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Ditto, P2YA. Our state lawmakers are giving us more reasons to vote them out when they waste so much time legislating our cellphones away from us because we may not be using them in a manner that they approve of? Give me a break. ..................... While your school district gets that average $3,500. property tax out of you, again, take into consideration that IF you do not pay this tax, for the rest of your life, you will be forced out of your home or business. ..................... What lessons are we teaching our children when the school they are being educated in is directly responsible for throwing them, their families, grandparents, neighbors, local business owners, ... into bankruptcy? The public schooling of students in the United States, paid for by property owners, has been the law of the land for more than one hundred years. Your school district sucks $30. to $100. a week [or more; up to $10,000. a year ] out of your pocket. ..................... Your state government learned how-to eliminate your school property tax several years ago but, since you and your fellow property owners are not telling them to go ahead and abolish the tax, they don't care to do anything but apply band-aids, favoring one political interest or another. ................... Learn more about why and how-to speak up before it's too late via the PTCC - Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition http://www.facebook.com/groups/pataxpayers/
Carol Ann November 02, 2012 at 11:37 PM
As long as our state lawmakers want to consider outlawing some cellphone uses, why don't they outlaw flowers, like salvia.(Oh wait, they did that in 2012 along with bath salts. ). I think if lawmakers want us to believe, they are restricting our civil rights for our own good, I'd like to know, why the household chemicals in the grocery store aisles are not sold under the same laws governing alcoholic beverages? For longer than you have been alive, people have been abusing commonly found household cleaning products. www.inhalants.org http://www.kotzot.com/news/salvia-divinorum-une-plante-aux-effets-psychotropes-extremement-puissants/

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