PACE Act would prosecute teen sexting as kiddie porn

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Crimes against children, particularly those that involve sexual exploitation, are beyond the pale. But while society needs to make sure it protects children from sexual abuse, recent legislation passed by the U.S. House could cause more problems than it solves – hurting minors, expanding minatory minimums and creating redundant federal authority where there already are similar laws at the state level.

By a 368-51 margin, the House voted May 25 to approve H.R. 1761, the Protecting Against Child Exploitation (PACE) Act of 2017. The bill is intended to strengthen federal laws dealing with the production and distribution of child pornography by making the transmission of sexual images of minors a federal crime. The measure has moved on to the upper chamber, where it will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While the bill’s purpose is to punish child predators, its unintended consequence will be to create more criminals out of teenagers whose main crime is simply lacking common sense.

As written, the law could apply to minors who send sexual images to other minors, or what is commonly referred to as “sexting.” The House-passed bill provides no exemption or provision to deal with minors who engage in sexting, meaning they could be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender. Because of how broadly the text is written, even a teenager who merely views a sexual image or requests that one be sent could be subject to the mandatory minimum.

Sexting among teenagers increasingly has become the norm. While the phenomenon is worth a larger discussion, most would agree that locking teenagers up for 15 years is not the best way to handle the situation. Few believe these minors are committing crimes on a par with actual child predators. They should not be treated the same way under the law.

Teenagers are still minors in the eyes of the court. By creating an inflexible law that cannot take into account the ages of those involved, the law will force the courts to punish minors for having poor judgment. For numerous other crimes, the court system is purposely designed differently when it comes to how and whether to prosecute and sentence minors. Judges are given more tools to keep them out of jail and without criminal records. By retaining local jurisdiction, communities could respond more effectively to offenders and victims, as well as to the community at large. Child pornography laws should protect children from terrible acts, not punish teenagers for lapses in judgement.

Such concerns could have been addressed in the PACE Act, were it not for pure laziness on the part of the House of Representatives. The bill was passed without any hearings or input from experts, and approved as members fled Washington for their Memorial Day recess. The American people deserve better that.

There is still hope that the Senate will take notice of these issues. Law enforcement at both the state and federal level already have multiple tools at their disposal to prosecute child predators. This expansion of federal power is nothing but Congress creating a solution to a problem that did not exist.


Image by nito

 

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