Illinois House lessens penalty for sexting

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

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The Illinois House of Representatives voted this Thursday to lift some penalties for teenagers who engage in sexting. While minors are still prohibited from sending nude photos of other minors taken on cell phones, they will no longer be required to register as sex offenders. Instead, they could be punished with court-ordered supervision or community service. 

The bill, which was sponsored by State Representative Darlene Senger from Naperville, passed with a 114–1 majority and will be considered by the Illinois Senate. The lone dissenter, State Representative Careen Gordon from Morris, declined to comment on her vote. 

Senger says that sexting has become a problem because when teens send nude pictures of themselves to their boyfriends or girlfriends, they don’t realize that what they are doing is illegal or that their pictures can be distributed to other people. A national survey has revealed that 48 percent of teenagers have received sexual text messages or emails, while 39 percent have sent or posted sexual photos online.

Criminal charges are more serious if the content is posted online. As Connie Burch told Illinois, however, “the threat of having to register as a sex offender goes too far.” The main purpose of the legislation is to create awareness among parents about what has become a prevalent issue for teenagers. As Senger told the Chicago Sun-Times, “We still have the ability to prosecute those whose intent is to create child pornography even if they’re under 18. However, if you’re just doing something because you think it’s a prank, we can explain why this isn’t funny.”