Olympia Dispatch

A Bill Would Decriminalize Sexting for Minors

"This is a bill that is about 10 years overdue."

By Hayat Norimine February 13, 2018

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If you're a 16-year-old in Washington state who sent a nude photo to a significant other, you could be charged with a crime.

A bill sponsored by Manka Dhingra, a Redmond Democrat, would decriminalize sexting for youth—by changing a child pornography law on sexually explicit photos to exclude perpetrators who are minors. If approved, it would no longer be a crime to send photos of yourself; it would be a misdemeanor for minors disseminating photos of other minors.

Senate Bill 6566 made it out of the Senate on Saturday with 31 votes in favor—including some GOP legislators like John Braun—and 16 Republicans against. The companion bill, sponsored by Noel Frame, didn't make it out of the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee. 

The legislation received widespread support among attorneys (both the Washington Defender Association and Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys) and criminal justice advocates, who say it's long overdue; when lawmakers crafted the statute in 1984, sexting wasn't an option. 

Proponents of the bill say harsh criminal laws on minors, whose brains are still developing and are more prone to risk-taking, does more harm than good; it subjects youth to a negative experience with the criminal justice system, can damage lives with a criminal background, and imposes penalties that make it more difficult to correct the behavior. The bill would also require minors to forfeit the photos. No one testified against the bill.  

"This is a bill that is about 10 years overdue," said Todd Dowell of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Brad Drury, a defense attorney in Olympia, at a public hearing late January said he represented a 15-year-old girl who took a photo of her and her friend partially nude; classmates had seen it and reported it to law enforcement. The girl faced a charge of manufacturing child pornography. The prosecutors eventually offered a lesser charge of telephone harassment because the girls had no criminal background. 

"I cannot emphasize how harmful and stressful that experience was for my client, her friend, and their families," Drury said.

Edited 10:48am on February 14, 2018. 

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