Is Sexting Criminal Behavior? Not According to JSPAN Board!

by Lynn Gottlieb, JSPAN Executive Director

At its June 24, 2010 meeting, the Board of Directors of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network passed a motion opposing legislation that criminalizes "sexting," the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. The term was first popularized around 2005 and is a blend of sex and texting.

The action by the JSPAN board was in response to a bill recently proposed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (PA House Bill 2189), which would create a new offense of “sexting”—the dissemination of prohibited materials by minors via electronic communication. This legislation provides that any minor who knowingly transmits an electronic communication or disseminates a depiction of himself or herself to another minor or possesses a depiction of another minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct commits a misdemeanor of the second degree punishable by up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

The JSPAN Board was concerned about several issues with this legislation. JSPAN objects to the proposed criminalization of telephone communication by texting. In addition, making these acts a crime will not necessarily dissuade people from engaging in them. Most significantly, this law can be used to target innocent text recipients for prosecution.

On June 29, H.B. 2189 passed the House and will now go to the Senate for its consideration. The legislation would create a tiered system, depending on the specific circumstances in question, with offenses ranging from summary to misdemeanors of the second degree.

According to the consensus of the JSPAN board, comprehensive education for teenagers is the better response to the problem of sexting. This includes both internet education, which will help teens understand the need for privacy, as well as sex education. The Healthy Youth Act (House Bill 1163) creates a minimum standard for sex education curriculum in Pennsylvania public schools and mandates discussion of both abstinence and contraception. This bill has passed the House Education Committee and is scheduled for a vote by the full House.

To access the full text of H.B. 2189, click here.

To access the full text of H.B. 1163, click here.

Is Sexting Criminal Behavior? Not According to JSPAN Board!