This New U.S. Sexting Law Would Give Teens Who Send Or Receive Nude Pics A 15-Year Mandatory Jail Sentence

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sexting law

There has always been an element of danger when it comes to sexting.

Granted, it’s become one of the most common forms of flirting — the American Psychological Association released a study in 2015 that said 8 out of 10 adults had sexted in the previous year — but it’s not without its risks.

It can lead to embarrassment, it can easily expose cheating, and it can enable the release of sexy pictures to the internet that you NEVER wanted anyone else to see. And those are just some of the risks for consensual sexting. (Dick pics are on a whole other level of danger.)

However, if you’re a minor in the United States, sexting just became a WHOLE LOT more dangerous thanks to the House of Representatives.

The House just passed a bill that, if signed into law, would give teenagers who send or receive naked pics a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison if they're caught.

That’s right, 15 YEARS MINIMUM.

While that sentence seems extreme, the bill — titled the “Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act” — received overwhelming support in the House of Representatives, easily passing with a vote of 368-51.

But the bill, which was brought the floor by Republican Representative Mike Johnson from Louisiana, has ignited a passionate debate about sexting, child pornography, and the ethics of mandatory sentencing guidelines.

On the surface, saying that you’re trying to protect children from exploitation and pornography is an easy thing to support, which might explain the appeal of the bill.

Johnson defended his bill by saying, "In Scripture, Romans 13 refers to the governing authorities as 'God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer … I, for one, believe we have a moral obligation, as any just government should, to defend the defenseless."

While defending the defenseless is admirable, several vocal critics of the bill objected to the fact that the legal language is worded broadly enough that the punishments for the crime are both too extreme and inordinately targeted at teenagers — the audience that the bill is supposed to be protecting.

Because, while saying that you’re protecting teens from child pornography is one thing, it’s another thing to introduce mandatory 15-year prison sentences for sexting, when there are studies that show that 54% of ALL teenagers have admitted to sending sexually explicit images and texts over their phones before they were 18.

That means that 54% of all teenagers might be eligible for 15-year prison sentences, according to the interpretation of those who object to the bill.

For example, one of the opponents of the bill, Democratic Representative Bobby Scott, argued that “This law does not allow the judge to consider whether or not the conduct may have been consensual between minors. This circumstance is irrelevant when the sentence is mandatory. ... Under this law, teenagers who engage in consensual conduct and send photos of a sexual nature to their friends or even to each other may be prosecuted and the judge must sentence them to at least 15 years in prison." 

So, if a sophomore in high school, male or female, decided to send their significant other a shirtless pic, they could be prosecuted under this law. Bobby Scott also noted that, "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."

(It's unclear if, in those cases where someone is goaded or coerced into sending a nude picture, if they would also be eligible for prosecution — if they sent the photo of their own volition, they could definitely be charged.)

Johnson’s response to the criticism was, “There is simply no evidence that federal prosecutors are abusing the statute, and I think we should all recognize that producing child pornography is a horrific crime … The harm is too great to these victims not to have significant penalties available to deter this conduct and punish the producers of child pornography.”

The American Civil Liberties Union reacted swiftly to the passage of the bill, tweeting “The purpose of child pornography laws is to prevent minors from being abused, not criminalize young people for sexual experimentation."

What does this mean for tweens and teens under the age of 18?


Even though sexting has become such an incredibly common way to flirt in the “text don’t call” era, there are two things you need to be aware of before you sext:

1). Is the sext consensual?

Because, regardless of the laws in your area, if it’s not consensual, you’re committing a form of sexual assault.

2). What are the sexting laws in your area?

Because, even if sexy texts sound fun and you’re 100% fine sending your boyfriend or girlfriend a quick snap of your naked boob, in the United States, that one act could send someone to prison for 15 YEARS even if both parties, their lawyers, and the judges don’t think it’s a big deal.

So, be careful, teenagers, and parents, make sure your kids know the consequences (even the grossly unfair ones) of sexting in your area.