PA Mulls Teen Sexting Laws That Would Outlaw Explicit Pictures, Texts

Thanks to efforts by Pennsylvania state representative Seth Grove, Pennsylvania has become the 21st state to consider legislation that would make sexting by minors illegal.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Grove's bill "would impose a range of penalties, from a summary offense much like a traffic ticket to felony charges."

Grove, who says he first heard of sexting (messaging explicit pictures or text) from his wife, hopes prohibiting the practice would protect teens from themselves and from their peers.

"We want to make sure these pictures don't victimize kids even more," Grove told the Philadadelphia Inquirer.

New York's Department of Education is also considering measures to punish sexting both during and outside of school hours. Ohio recently passed a bill that would allow sexting teens to be prosecuted for the practice, although with some limits. Meanwhile, Vermont has mulled a different course: legalizing teen sexting outright.

The legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania takes issue with Grove's proposition to criminalize sexting, arguing that his bill would violate teens' privacy and impinge on their freedom of expression.

"The way this bill is written, constitutionally protected activity is criminalized," ACLU's Andy Hoover told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "So in the scenario where a teenage couple is sharing pictures with each other, and they involve only nudity, not sex acts, they can be charged."

Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania federal appeals court ruled that a teen could not be charged with a felony for sexting. The court said that threatening to press felony charges against a girl who appeared in a racy "sext"--unless she took enrolled in a diversionary program--was in violation of "the teen's constitutional right to be free from compelled speech and infringed on her parents' right to direct her upbringing."