While you or I might think that sexting is harmless fun for long distance relationships or the occasional bored afternoon, the same cannot be said for teenagers. Sexting was once a favorite past time of many youths, but the increase of sexting also led to an increase in convictions of exploiting minors. As court cases carrying serious punishments for those involved spread out across media, the sexting rate declined and so too did the non-consensual forwarding of texts.
Psychology today speculated that the “high profile court cases in which sexting teenagers have been convicted of the crime of exploiting a minor may have had a chilling effect” on those sending sexts and may have led to the decrease in this very action. In 2008, 18% of boys had sent a sext. Five years later this rate, despite the increase in technology, reduced to 16%. For girls, 17% of them had sexted in 2008, yet by 2013 only 14% had.
However, as of January 1 of 2018, there will be changes to the sexting laws in Colorado. The House Bill 1302 will lessen consequences for teenagers who have been caught texting sexual images to juveniles and now make it a petty offense for minors over 14 to possess a nude image of another teen without that teens consent. Before January 1 2018, teens found sexting would be charged with the sexual exploitation of a child, a class 3 felony and, if found guilty, would be registered as a sex offender on the sex offenders list. Now prosecutors may file misdemeanor charges so the teen does not have to face felony charge, and they do not need to be registered as a sex offender even if found guilty. The House Bill 1302 also means that programs will be offered to teens to educate them on why they are being punished. Such programs are not a new initiative. A five-week course called Sexting Solutions has been available to teens caught texting since 2013 and has allowed them to avoid gaining a legal record if taken. Of those who participated in the course, none have re-offended.
Going from the success of such a course, the new bill not only offers this course to offenders, but will require the school safety resource centre to make a sexting curriculum available for school districts to use. However, while it requires the curriculum to be available, it doesn’t require schools to use it unless they chose to—as yet, implementation is not mandatory. While education is almost always the key to avoiding criminal acts, it cannot be said for certain whether any teens will be provided with the education before being charged with a sexting offense. And so the question remains: Is lightening the punishment for those who possess a nude image of another teen without their consent a bad thing? Could we be facing a new increase in sexting offenses on 2018 since the decrease was linked only to the severity of the punishment? Only time will tell.