Proposed legislation aims to curb teen sexting

February 7, 2011 4:38:53 PM PST
The Texas attorney general and a state senator have filed legislation aimed at preventing sexting. It typically involves teenagers using cell phones to send sexually explicit messages or images to each other.

The new proposed law would make teenage sexting a Class C misdemeanor and teens and parents could be sentenced to a sexting education class. But some are questioning how enforceable that bill would be should it make it into the law books.

It's more common than parents want to think. A recent survey finds 20 percent of teenagers are sending and receiving sexually suggestive pictures and texts. And if Senate Bill 407 makes its way through the state legislature, it could soon be a Class C misdemeanor for first time offenders.

"What this bill does is it gives prosecutors an additional and more effective set of tools for addressing this problem," Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Dist. 14) said.

The proposed law calls for judges to sentence first time offenders to sexting education, which amounts to a class on the consequences of sexting -- one the teens would attend with a parent.

But college students at the University of Houston -- young adults who were minors themselves a year or so ago -- don't think teen sexting should be a crime at all.

"As long as they're under 18 -- there's no one over 18 -- then I believe they should have the right to sext, you know?" college student Jonathan Jackson said.

"I really don't think it's something that should be penalized. I mean, they do it with their will," college student Tony Mathews said.

Transmitting obscene images of minors is already a felony, says Eyewitness News Legal Analyst Joel Androphy. But he says this bill is not very practical.

"I think its effectiveness is remote. I think some people will get charged. It's going to be very difficult to enforce," Androphy said.

And Androphy thinks the reason behind Senate Bill 407 may be more political than anything else.

"It will do good to some degree, but it's more important for the politicians than it is for the victims of this or the people involved," he said.

Teens would be allowed to ask the court to expunge their records of a sexting conviction. And if a teen received a sext, he or she could avoid prosecution altogether if he or she reported the sext to police within two days.

Currently in Texas, anyone who transmits an explicit image of a minor can face felony child pornography charges, meaning a teen who sends an explicit picture of him or herself can get into some serious legal trouble.

The attorney general's office says this law aims to prevent teens from facing felonies in such cases, although if a teen is caught a second and third time sexting, the charges are Class B and Class A misdemeanors, respectively.