Reforms passed to protect teens from ‘sexting’ prosecution

New law protects teenagers from felony prosecution and promotes prevention and intervention

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law the Responsible Teen Communications Act on April 24.

The act protects teenagers from felony prosecution for distribution or possession of child pornography when they make explicit messages and images of themselves and share them with peers. The act also invests in evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies.

“Washington has a responsibility to protect its young people — and that includes protection from the life-long consequences of unnecessary prosecution,” said Michele Storms, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington’s executive director.

“This bill addresses irresponsible teenage behavior in a more productive way.”

A majority of teenagers use cell phones, and according to numerous studies, at least 20 percent of them use their phones to exchange explicit images of themselves, mostly with someone they are dating. This exposes a large number of young people to the threat of criminal prosecution for behaviors that could be effectively addressed in more productive ways, according to an ACLU press release.

Prior to this bill, teenagers who sent or received sexually explicit messages and images could be charged with distribution or possession of child pornography — a felony conviction that would result in a criminal record, sex offender registration and life-long barriers to housing, employment and education.

The Responsible Teen Communications Act replaces those penalties with “an investment in developing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies that educate tens to make responsible decisions,” according to the press release. It also retains misdemeanor-level criminal penalties for youth who share images of others.

“Young people will make mistakes, but a teen who sends a naked selfie should not suffer the same consequences as a child pornographer,” said Rep. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor.

“By bringing state law up to date with technology, we are protecting teens from the unintended consequences of a law meant to keep them from harm, while ensuring that malicious behavior can still be punished appropriately.”

Many stakeholders advocated for the passage of SHB 1742, including the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Team Child, the Washington Defender Association, the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Justice for Girls Coalition.

More in News

Rotary duck, ‘Waddles,’ found in Allyn by Bremerton Police

The 15-foot inflatable duck had been stolen for over a week and was returned to Advantage Nissan

Bremerton Police notify residents of postcard scam

The postcards states “You have recently closed on your mortgage with HOMESTREET BANK.”

Fast Ferry service to operate on normal schedule July 22–27

Construction has been delayed at the Seattle passenger-only ferry dock

It’s official: Widened Tremont Street is opening Aug. 2

City is planning a celebration to mark end of 24-month project

One of two missing sex offenders in custody

Codi James Cousins still at large on a warrant for failing to register as a sex offender

Fasten up this summer driving season, WSP says

Statistics show a startling correlation between not belting and injuries, even death

Tribal Canoe Journey celebrating 30 years in Suquamish

Traditional ocean going canoes are scheduled to land at the Charles Lawrence… Continue reading

17-year-old in serious condition following SR 305 crash

Around 1 p.m. Friday, July 12, Washington State Patrol responded to a… Continue reading

Manslaughter suspect sentenced to 90 months

Man shot Port Orchard woman while cleaning stolen rifle

Most Read