Responsible Teen Communications Act passes Senate
OLYMPIA – On April 10, the Washington State Senate approved a bill to update Washington’s child pornography laws by a vote of 25-19. House Bill 1742, also known as the Responsible Teen Communications Act, would ensure minors who share sexually explicit images or videos of themselves or their peers (commonly known as “sexting”) are not automatically charged with a felony sex offense.
The Responsible Teen Communications Act, sponsored by Rep. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, would bring Washington law up to date with teens’ current use of technology and protect against the unintended consequences of “sexting,” which has become a common practice amongst teens.
Under current law, a minor sharing an intimate image of themselves is treated the same as an adult who takes explicit photos of children to exploit them. That means the minor could be charged with a class B felony sex offense and be forced to register as a sex offender. A felony criminal record carries lifelong consequences, often making it hard to find housing, employment, and education.
“Teens use technology now in ways that weren’t even available when our state’s child pornography law was written,” said Frame. “The law was intended to protect children, but because the times have changed, and the law hasn’t, the very children it aims to protect are now being harmed by it.”
House Bill 1742 would decriminalize minors creating, possessing, and viewing sexually explicit images of themselves or peers. The law holds minors accountable for sharing or distributing pictures or videos of minors age 13 years of age or older engaged in sex acts through a simple or gross misdemeanor, rather than a felony sex offense. Minors financing or selling depictions of themselves would face a misdemeanor charge. At the same time, minors possessing or distributing sexually explicit materials depicting another minor age 12 or under, or financing or selling sexually explicit materials depicting another minor of any age, could still be charged with a felony sex offense.
The bill does not change any laws relating to harassment, voyeurism, indecent exposure, or malicious distribution of intimate images. These laws provide other avenues to charge teens who are causing harm to their peers.
House Bill 1742 now awaits signature by Governor Inslee.