Legislators are making another attempt to relax state laws for “sexting” between teenagers who are dating. Assistant Iowa Attorney General Sherri Soich says, for example, a teenage girl who sends a racy photo to her boyfriend could be charged with a felony today.
“Under the current law, it makes teenagers who are ‘sexting’ actually child pornographyers,” Soich says, “because under the definition of child pornography…if you produce a picture of a prohibited sex act involving a minor, then you are deemed a producer of child pornography.”
Iowa’s attorney general began asking legislators in 2010 to change these laws, to make most cases of “sexting” a misdemeanor. Eric Tabor, chief deputy attorney general, says young people sometimes do dumb things.
“What we want to ensure here is that some youthful mistake like that does not turn into someone being convicted of a serious crime or being put on the sex offender registry forever,” Tabor says.
A bill that would make most cases of “sexting” a misdemeanor has cleared a senate committee. The bill would allow some “sexting” to be legal if the two parties are in a relationship and the text or photo or video is not sent to others, but once that content distributed beyond its original recipient, Soich says charges could be filed.
“We want the law to sort of keep up with technology and this kind of new behavior that teenagers are engaging in,” she says.
But Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids says legislators are likely to seek changes in the bill.
“I don’t want this legislature to convey a message that ‘sexting’ is o.k.,” Hogg says. “I want to convey a message that that is still illegal, but it’s not going to put you on the sex offender registry and it’s not going to make you serve a multi-year prison sentence if you do it.”
The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee late Tuesday afternoon. As currently written prosecutors could have the discretion to charge individuals between the ages of 14 and 18 with a simple misdemeanor for sending images of a minor engaged in a sex act or in a state of full or partial nudity.