What teens need to know about Pennsylvania's sexting laws

This article provides a brief overview of Pennsylvania sexting laws, including potential sentences.

Exploring one's sexuality is an important part of any person's teenage years. What many teenagers and, indeed, parents may be surprised to learn is that behavior that seems innocent and healthy to them may be considered a crime under Pennsylvania law. As Law Street Media reports, Pennsylvania is one of a growing number of states that has made teen sexting a criminal offense. Because sexting laws are still a relatively recent addition to juvenile and criminal law, many Pennsylvanians are still unclear about what kind of behavior may be permitted or criminalized under the new laws.

Pennsylvania sexting law

Pennsylvania passed its own sexting laws back in 2012. These sexting laws apply to teenagers aged 12 to 17. They make it a summary offense for somebody in that age range to distribute nude photos of themselves and for another 12 to 17-year-old to possess nude photos of somebody who is also between 12 and 17. Minors who transmit nude photos of other minors or who create or distribute sexually explicit photos of 12- to 17-year-olds in order to harass, bully, or coerce the person depicted in such photos, can also face more serious misdemeanor charges. It's important to keep in mind that the sexting laws only apply to nude photos and not to more sexually explicit depictions of minors, which would generally be covered by child pornography laws.

At the time Pennsylvania's sexting law was passed, supporters argued that it would prevent minors from being charged and prosecuted as felons under child pornography laws if they took, possessed, or distributed nude photos of themselves or of other teenage minors. Other supports also argued that sexting could lead to bullying and should thus be penalized. However, as PennLive notes, opponents argued that the law criminalized what was otherwise healthy sexual behavior by teenagers. Many opponents took particular issue with the fact that the law makes criminals out of teenagers who freely and willingly take and distribute nude photos of themselves.

Potential consequences

Although teenagers who are charged with sexting will generally not face felony charges, the consequences of a summary or misdemeanor charge are still serious. Juvenile offenders could face fines and will often be ordered to attend a diversionary program about the dangers of sexting. Typically, their sexting arrest record is expunged if they complete the program. While jail is rare in sexting cases, it is also a possibility.

Legal help

Of course, the legal punishments that teens face when charged with sexting are only one part of the story. The anxiety of being charged with a crime and the humiliation that may ensue given the nature of the offense can both be just as painful for defendants as any sentence handed down by a judge. Teenagers and parents of teenagers who have been charged with sexting should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. An attorney who understands how sexting laws work will be able to offer juvenile defendants qualified advice on how to respond to these charges, which may ultimately help them protect their reputations and their futures.