The California Assembly’s Education Committee recently approved legislation that would allow public schools to expel students caught “sexting” in any situation connected to school. Senate Bill SB919 defines “sexting” as “the sending or receiving of sexually explicit pictures or video by means of an electronic act.”
The bill would amend California’s Education Code to allow expulsion of a student found sexting:
- While physically on the school’s campus
- While traveling to or from school
- While traveling to or from a school-sponsored event or activity
- During the school lunch period (whether on or off campus)
SB919 seeks to more directly address a growing concern over the combination of adolescents’ natural sexual curiosity and their use of technology. A 2008 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 21 percent of teenagers admitted to sending nude or semi-nude photos of themselves to someone else. Forty-four percent of teens admitted to passing along sexually explicit material they had been sent by someone else. The trend is not limited to photos, as 39 percent of teens admitted to sending sexually explicit text messages; 48 percent reported receiving them.
Under current California law, the possession, production or distribution of a sexually explicit image of a minor is considered a child pornography offense. There is no exception if the person making or sending the image is a minor or the pictures are of him or herself. Moreover, California law prohibits messages intended to sexually arouse, or sexually appeal to, a minor.
Even if the offender is tried as a juvenile and not an adult, the penalties for these offenses can include jail time, fines and require registration as a sex offender. However, there is a proposal in California to reduce the penalty for minors to community service and mandatory counseling.
SB919 would not reduce the criminal penalties for sexting, but would expand the consequences to include expulsion from school. If the bill passes, it will likely be challenged for being so broad in scope.