Grove, District Attorneys Call for Passage of ‘Sexting’ Legislation

March 8, 2010

Harrisburg, PA – Rep. Seth Grove (R-Dover) and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association are calling on the General Assembly to approve legislation that would address the practice of inappropriate text messaging between teens, referred to as “sexting.”

Grove’s House Bill 2189 would create a new misdemeanor of the second degree for teens caught sexting, which would apply if a minor sends nude images of himself or herself or another minor over the age of 13 via electronic communication.

“My legislation is not about criminalizing how teens express themselves because this form of expression is already a crime under Pennsylvania state law, and it can carry some serious and long-lasting penalties,” said Grove. “House Bill 2189 seeks to protect teens from sexual exploitation and provide an appropriate disciplinary tool for Pennsylvania’s prosecutors who are looking for guidance on how to treat these cases. No one wants to throw their hands up and say let’s just allow what is essentially child pornography. People have to remember that once a photo is transmitted electronically, it can end up anywhere, and we have had cases of ‘sexted’ photos showing up on the computers of registered sex offenders. ”

Under current law, young people in Pennsylvania caught text messaging nude photos of themselves or other teens could be charged with disseminating child pornography. Penalties for the crime could include jail time and registering as a sex offender on the Megan’s Law Web site. It could also have profound consequences for the future of anyone convicted, including ineligibility for military service, rejection from colleges and universities and difficulties in finding employment with a felony prosecution on his or her permanent record.

“Reasonable, understanding prosecutors in Pennsylvania recognize that while sexting is wrong, it should not always be treated as a felony,” said Dauphin County District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr., who is also president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. “Pennsylvania’s prosecutors have been pleased to work with Representative Seth Grove and his colleagues to draft legislation that recognized that not every case of sexting warrants felony adjudication and that in many of these cases education and diversionary programs are the appropriate legal response.”

Grove noted that at least 13 other states are working to address a growing epidemic of sexting.

“We want to strike a balance with this legislation so kids understand it is unacceptable to circulate these pictures, but we do not want to stigmatize them for life,” said Grove. “My hope is to educate young people and parents about the dangers of sexting. Parents also have to realize there has been an explosion in the technology that allows immediate and intimate interactions between children and potential predators, including cell phones, gaming systems, web cams, and social media sites. As a new father, I realize that with so much technology at our fingertips, we have to be extremely vigilant in how our children apply these devices. I advise all parents to find out what their kids are up to and talk to them about the dangers of sexting.”

House Bill 2189 is expected to come up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee on March 10. Grove is hopeful the legislation will be considered by the full House before the summer recess.

Representative Seth Grove
196th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
(717) 767-3947
Contact: Nicole Wamsley
nwamsley@pahousegop.com or (717) 783-8063
Member site: RepGrove.com
Twitter site: Twitter.com/repgrove