Sexting Bill Could Send Teens And Their Parents To Jail For 15 Years

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The House wants to protect children, but children and their families will be collateral. As the saying goes: "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

Composition of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2017

While we panic over Russia and President Donald Trump's administration, the House of Representatives is hard at work on new destructive policies.

A severely misguided bill that bridged party divides recently passed the House with only 53 Democrats and two Republicans voting in opposition to it. Depending on how the Senate votes, this new legislation could criminalize sexting amongst teens.

Uncontroversially titled "The Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017," the bill proposes to “criminalize the knowing consent of the visual depiction, or live transmission, of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, and for other purposes.” In short, teens caught sexting could face a mandatory minimum of 15 years in jail, and so could their parents.

The proposal states that “any parent, legal guardian, or person having custody or control of a minor” who “knowingly permits such minor to engage in, or to assist any other person to engage in, sexually explicit conduct knowing that a visual depiction of such conduct will be produced or transmitted shall be punished."

The Public Defender Blog points out that the language of the bill is incredibly vague, particularly the term "knowingly permits." Without any further specifications, any parent aware of their child sexting who does not then confiscate their phone and cut off their internet access could be sentenced to the mandatory minimum. This attacks the rights of parents to make their own decisions when it comes to their children, for there are certainly those who may decide to approach their child's sexting using methods other than censorship and isolation.

Point-blank: This bill is insane. It originated as an attempt to curb predators and child pornography, but how destroying families will help do this is beyond us.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has called the proposal "deadly and counterproductive." She conceded on the House floor that the bill's writers mean well, but "it is overbroad in scope and will punish the very people it indicates it is designed to protect: our children."

Lee also stated that the act would "exacerbate overwhelming concerns with the unfair and unjust mandatory minimum sentencing that contributes to the overcriminalization of juveniles and mass incarceration generally."

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) stated during a debate on the House floor that one of the most disturbing things about this new legislation is that "it explicitly states that the mandatory minimums will apply equally to an attempt or a conspiracy."

“That means if a teenager attempts to obtain a photo of sexually explicit conduct by requesting it from his teenage girlfriend, the judge must sentence that teenager to prison for at least 15 years for making such an attempt,” Scott explained to fellow lawmakers. “If a teenager goads a friend to ask a teenager to take a sexually explicit image of herself, just by asking, he could be guilty of conspiracy or attempt, and the judge must sentence that teenager to at least 15 years in prison.”

Supporters of the proposal say that it would not have as harsh of an impact as its opponents believe because the ruling of individual cases would naturally be left up to the judge, but that's putting a lot of faith in a legal system that fails many. While the act would certainly prosecute some terrible people, it has the potential to throw good people under the bus. 

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