OLYMPIA – On Monday, the Washington State House of Representatives passed House Bill 1742 on a bipartisan vote of 57-39. The Responsible Teen Communications Act, sponsored by Rep. Noel Frame (D-Seattle), updates Washington’s laws to reflect current technology, and ensure minors sharing sexually explicit images or videos of themselves with their peers (commonly known was “sexting”) are not automatically charged with a felony sex offense and forced to register as a sex offender.
According to a recent study, more than one in four teenagers report having received a sexually explicit image, while around 15 percent of teens reported sending a “sext.”
Under current law, it is a felony sex offense for anyone to view, possess, or distribute any images, videos or other depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. That means a minor sharing an intimate image of themselves is treated the same as an adult who takes explicit photos of children to exploit them, and can be charged with a class B felony sex offense. A felony criminal record carries lifelong consequences, making it hard to find housing, employment and education.
“The disconnect between state law and teens’ current use of technology create unintended, lifelong consequences for teenagers,” said Frame. “The harsh penalties also prevent teenagers who may be being extorted or harassed from seeking help. They don’t come forward because they are scared of getting in trouble.”