Teen Sexting In Virginia: State Crime Commission Considers Revising Criminal Penalties

Virginia State Crime Commission is looking to revise penalties for teen sexting cases in order to lessen punishment when consensual suspects are involved. The effort comes as a way of separating teen sexting issues from adult charges of pornography and distributing child pornography. Currently, Virginia makes no distinction between adult and minor perpetrators of child pornography, including minors who take and send sexually suggestive pictures through cellphones.

Daily Progress adds that prison terms for this felony range from 5 to 30 years and place the minor on the state sex offender registry. The possession of sexually suggestive pictures is a felony, and so, it is easy to be accused of the crime of distribution of child pornography. Authorities have used discretion to determine how to prosecute cases. In 2009, changes to the current law were declined out of concerns that “loopholes” would allow an authentic predator, young or old, to get through the legal system without a penalty.

Teen sexting has become a trend, with BBC reporting that about 30 percent of American teens exchange sexually suggestive images. Hanna Rosin, an author, asserts that teen sexting falls in line with today’s electronic and technologically driven culture. Yet, sexting is a crime. Recently, Inquisitr covered the story of 30 Michigan students awaiting felony charges for their active high school sexting ring.

The big issue remains that teen sexting creates situations of a criminal nature, like distributing naked pictures to strangers. Virginia already dealt with a recent sexting ring that involved more than 100 teens this past April. The issue at the heart of new penalties is to determine whether or not a teen involved in sexting is a child predator or just a teen.

Turning the felony into a misdemeanor would not put a convicted criminal on the sex offender registry, and it could open doors for future crimes. Similarly, taking a lewd photo and willingly sending it to another person seems to lessen the seriousness of the criminal act by adding an element of consent from the supposed victims. In some cases, victims are made by not knowing that their pictures are being sold or sent through social media.

Virginia is moving to create “first-offender” provisions for the new penalties, echoing the policies in place for drug possession. Community service and other court orders, such as fines, will serve as deterrents for future criminal acts. That is the theory. Lesser penalties, however, mean that more teens may be found guilty or simply arrested for misdemeanors.

Mary Davye Devoy, an advocate for the reform of Virginia’s sex-offender laws, opposes changes. “I’m concerned that the proposed changes will result in more arrests, charges and prosecutions against Virginia’s teenagers for consensual sexting.” Devoy also notes that there is a three-year age gap that prevents consensual sex from becoming a felony, too. The logic is to apply the same ideas to sexting to prevent teens from being charged with a felony for child pornography.

“Why can’t we add to the current child pornography production, distribution, possession and solicitation statutes a disclaimer for consensual images between teenagers in age-appropriate relationships?” she asked. Whether or not Virginia goes through with updates remains to be seen.

(Photo courtesy of Greg Kahm/ The Atlantic)