Pittman plans to reintroduce ‘sexting’ legislation

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 04-Aug-2010

In wake of new “sexting” instances in southern Oklahoma, state Rep. Anastasia Pittman, an Oklahoma City Democrat, is renewing her legislative concern over the plague.

Rep. Pittman previously held a public hearing to discuss the growing teenage craze of taking explicit pictures of themselves then sending them to a boyfriend or girlfriend. The meeting addressed not just the criminal felony charges that apply in the absence of specific sexting laws, but also the emotional consequences of lovelorn teens who send pictures in haste that are later shared with more than the intended recipient.

The recent charges in Texhoma against three males, ages 18 and 19, for the possession and distribution by cell phone of obscene images of a 17-year old female highlights the dire need to create “sexting” laws, states the Oklahoma City lawmaker.

Rep. Pittman has collaborated with Speaker-designate Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican, on this matter, in addition to the District Attorney’s Council, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Oklahoma Education Association, and the Oklahoma Coalition against Domestic Violence.

A Senior Advisor to the House Democratic leadership team, Pittman has spearheaded the movement to address the practice known as “sexting.” In addition to holding meetings and providing information on this issue, she introduced House Bill 3321 this past session to give prosecutors and police more discretion in dealing with such cases.

Given the shared concern and good rapport with the incoming Speaker of the House on the growing prevalence of sexting, Rep. Pittman is optimistic that in the coming session real progress can be achieved to curb this trend.

“My fear is that if we do nothing countless teens will see their lives shattered by receiving the brunt end of punishment that is really meant for adult predators,” said Rep. Pittman. “We need to both educate teens on this issue, and enact legislation to appropriately address this relatively new behavior. Our youth need to realize the very real lifespan of these mistakes, as given all our technological advances, pictures can be shared and stored on numerous social media forums, and by then they are almost impossible to retract.”

Sexting is generally defined as the sharing of sexually explicit photos, videos and chat by cell phone. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, one in five teen girls say they have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude images of themselves. One-third of teen boys and one-quarter of teen girls say they have had nude/semi-nude images, originally meant to be private, shared with them.

The practice has led to child pornography charges against teens in several other states. In Pennsylvania, three Pennsylvania high school girls who sent semi-nude photos and four male students who received them were all hit with child pornography charges.

In the recent Texhoma case, as there are no Oklahoma laws that specifically address underage “sexting”- related crimes, the three males charged with possessing obscene materials and child pornography may face a felony conviction and be required to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

“On the books in Oklahoma the child pornography law reads to ‘every person’, and does not distinguish between minors, so your teenager could be charged with child pornography and given a felony conviction and between ten to twenty-five years in prison for sexting. No one condones sexting, but at the same time no one wants to hang an albatross around the necks of teens for a youthful indiscretion, and forever limit their career opportunities or where they can live in society. There is a world of difference between sexting and predatory behavior, and I hope with the help of Speaker-Elect Steele we can gain some ground on dividing the two behaviors,” Pittman said.

Rep. Pittman also noted that she hopes the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy will expand the definition of behavioral health to include the practice of sexting.