by Chris Reed | March 17, 2016 8:12 am
At a time when the U.S. legal system is facing critics from both the Left and the Right for overprosecuting mistake-prone young people and leaving permanent scars on their lives, a California lawmaker wants to allow schools to expel students for “sexting” — sending explicit photos electronically to classmates. A 2009 MTV survey found that one-third of American teens had sent, received or seen “sexts.”
But the Assembly member behind the measure — Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park — says his bill, AB2356, will be carefully crafted to only allow for the expulsion of students who send sexually explicit or nude photos electronically “with the purpose or effect of humiliating or harassing a pupil.” Chau emphasized that existing laws on cyberbullying and revenge porn were not adequate to deal with the “sexting” problem, which experts have said for years leads to mental health issues among teens.
The law would not apply to “sexts” sent from student to student while away from school, leading critics to wonder about its effectiveness. But that wasn’t the only objection raised to Chau’s bill, as The Los Angeles Times reported:
Catherine Hill, vice president for research at the association, said she would prefer an approach to sexting that allows the students to address their actions while remaining on campus and receiving counseling. …
Free speech advocates have been skeptical of efforts to address cyberbullying.
The California bill concerns Sameer Hinduja, a criminal justice professor at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, which keeps track of states with sexting laws.
His qualms stem in part from the law’s assumption that administrators can determine the intended purpose of the material students send. The bill, he said, “seems to assume that identifying intent is easy. And it’s totally not in these types of situations.
“I would be afraid that we’re starting to infringe on civil liberties.”
Twenty states have laws on “sexting.” However, there is growing concern that this prosecution-centric approach to a practice that shocks older generations but seems routine for some young people punishes and stigmatizes minors.
Writing in 2014 for Reason.com, Lenore Skenazy detailed cases in Minnesota and Virginia in which authorities considered treating teens who swapped “sexts” as sex offenders whom the community needed to be protected from.
In September, an unsigned post on Techdirt.com explored a North Carolina case in which a 16-year-old boy who sent a lewd photo was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor — himself.
But Chau insists that he is aware of such dubious uses of sexting laws and will be able to craft a law that makes distinctions between the ways lewd photos are shared and the intent of those sharing such images.
A hearing has not yet been scheduled on his bill, and the Legislature has yet to do a formal analysis of the measure.
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