Sexting Statute in Pennsylvania
Last year I had the privilege of working with staff of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission as they were looking at the new "sexting statute" in Pennsylvania. The final product of that work was a report titled "Report of the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission: Considerations in Response to Pennsylvania's Sexting Statute, Act 128 of 2012. During this project it was evident that is was still very early in the implementation phase of the statute. Only 10 months had passed since the law went into effect. As a result the statistics we were able to review were minimal at that point. Also many cases went to the District Justice level and those statistics were not reviewed.
What I think is most significant about this report is the view it provides from a variety of angles on the impact of all involved, the inclusion of the most current research on sexting behavior among teens, and the acknowledgement of the number of cases that never make it to the juvenile court system. Education of juvenile probation officers on the issues related to sexting was for me the strongest recommendation in the report/
Many times during the informal focus group members voiced concerns that many if not most cases involving sexting were being handled within the schools. This raised the question as to when and what criteria were being used to determine when to call the police.
This issue of sexting is riddled with the potential for net widening and sexism that must be addressed in any response. Careful consideration of the breath of the issue and what our response either as parents, law enforcement or as schools should be requires acknowledgment the sexism prevalent in our society. For example, girls are depicted more often in these sexually explicit images, and most often it is ex-boyfriends or jealous girlfriends that are redistributing these images after a teen dating relationship ends. The harsh reality is that it is the individual depicted in the image that is labeled, shamed, and humiliated.
The law enforcement community championed this law with support from victims and their advocates. However, as a community we fall short if we believe that arrest and prosecution are the answer. Those steps must be combined with appropriate intervention and education to assist parent, teens, schools and others in learning about healthy boundaries and healthy relationships. Otherwise we will continue to deal with the inconsistent reporting which creates inconsistent enforcement, and the potential for overzealous prosecution of individuals, individuals that based on the research contained in the report would not normally come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
Criminalizing this behavior cannot be all that we do. We must are wiser than that and need to apply new knowledge based on the research to look at the sexting issues from a broader perspective.
Mary Achilles, Owner
Achilles Consulting Services, LLC