The United States House of Representatives has passed a bill to criminalize “sexting” among teenagers. But that’s not all. This ominous bill also punishes their parents by making them face a 15-year mandatory, minimum sentence.

H.R. 1761, the Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017, seeks to “criminalize the knowing consent of the visual depiction, or live transmission, of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, and for other purposes.”

“Any person who, in a circumstance described in subsection (f), knowingly—employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces a minor to engage in any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct, or transmitting a live visual depiction of such conduct; produces or causes to be produced a visual depiction of a minor engaged in any sexually explicit conduct where the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and such visual depiction is of such conduct; or transmits or causes to be transmitted a live visual depiction of a minor engaged in any sexually explicit conduct.”

But the teenagers who are caught “sexting” are not the only ones who will be punished. The bill also states that “any parent, legal guardian, or person having custody or control of a minor” who “knowingly permits such minor to engage in, or to assist any other person to engage in, sexually explicit conduct knowing that a visual depiction of such conduct will be produced or transmitted shall be punished.”


As the Public Defender Blog points out:

The key words here are “knowingly permits.”  That’s an extraordinarily low standard for a criminal offense.  This language would apply to any parents who discover that their teenager is sexting with a romantic partner and then fail to cut off the child’s phone and internet access.

It is certainly justifiable for parents to take such decisive action when they catch their children sexting.   But it is also understandable that some parents might prefer a different approach.  Phones and the internet are essential to modern life, and parents might reasonably choose to tolerate sexting while warning their teenagers against it.   Indeed, experts advise that parents should supervise their kids’ phone and internet use, but also caution that “throwing the book” at teens when they’re caught won’t do much good.

Even if the clause that punishes parents was taken out of the bill, it still leaves the question of why 15-year-olds are being subjected to mandatory minimum sentences.

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During a debate over the bill on the House floor, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), noted that one of the most alarming parts about the bill is that it “explicitly states that the mandatory minimums will apply equally to an attempt or a conspiracy.”

“That means if a teenager attempts to obtain a photo of sexually explicit conduct by requesting it from his teenage girlfriend, the judge must sentence that teenager to prison for at least 15 years for making such an attempt,” Scott said. “If a teenager goads a friend to ask a teenager to take a sexually explicit image of herself, just by asking, he could be guilty of conspiracy or attempt, and the judge must sentence that teenager to at least 15 years in prison.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, also noted that the bill raises “new constitutional concerns” and would arguably “exacerbate overwhelming concerns with the unfair and unjust mandatory minimum sentencing that contributes to the over-criminalization of juveniles and mass incarceration generally.”

“While the bill is well intended, it is overbroad in scope and will punish the very people it indicates it is designed to protect: our children,” Lee said.

The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) in March, passed in the House of Representatives last week with a larger majority. It was opposed by 53 Democrats, and just two Republicans—Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ken.).

While supporters of the bill argue that each individual case would be up to the discretion of the judge, the fact is that if this bill becomes law, and it includes a 15-year, mandatory minimum sentence, it will set a troubling precedent for both teenagers, and their parents. It also serves as a reminder that making something “illegal” won’t scare teenagers out of doing it—instead, it will just create another way for the government to meddle in the personal lives of citizens, and it will do so by punishing only the ones who are caught.

Rachel Blevins is a Texas-based journalist who aspires to break the left/right paradigm in media and politics by pursuing truth and questioning existing narratives. Follow Rachel on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • David M Welch

    This is why people hate our government. Punish everyone! Watch, some public officials teenage kid will do this and it will suddenly not make sense.

  • chris atkins

    This is law is indicative of what is happening on all government levels. Unrighteous dominion, unconstitutional law that OVERREACHES the boundaries of personal freedom.
    The same thing in DUI’s…..It’s legal to make booze and the government can’t stop it from being made….BUT THEY CAN STAND ON THE HEAD OF THE INDIVIDUAL WHO CHOOSES A LIFESTYLE OF DRINKING.
    The “lawmakers” have to stop making law for the sake of making law..THAT VIOLATES THE PERSONAL FREEDOM’S BUT FILLS THE COFFER’S OF THE CORPORATIONS AND GOVERNMENT’S.
    By the way…..the money WILL FLOW in these cases to the lawyer and the STATE FUNDS……money and bondage….AND THE PEOPLE ARE PAYING

    • Hazel Guerrero

      Very true

  • Damiana

    Watch and see – this bullshit will get repealed the SECOND it starts snaring well-to-do white kids in its claws.

    • Guy

      Maybe. Because it’s the *well-to-do-white kids who has the money to buy their way out of the problem, like the Stanford swimmer did for rape. What about all the rest ?

    • unsheepled

      Watch. It wont. The only people it wont affect are POLITICIANS and their families, Like always

  • Steve

    If you want to mess something up, give it to congress.

  • Valli

    So when are the republicunts going to enact legislation to punish and jail people for having sex outside of marriage period?

  • Gordon Klock

    Making parents afraid of their own kids, another ‘earmark’ of a self-destructive, repressive, “police state”, tyranny, punishing people over things they have no real control over…..

  • Guy

    So Rachel, what do you suggest !?

    The reason I ask is. I was born in the late 40’s and raised long befor the internet was even a dream. Having raise two sons in the mid and late 90’s who are now in their 30’s, when the internet took off and went straight up to what it is today. As parents my wife and I had some dealings with the internet as our kids were growing up, but nothing like what it is now, and would have no idea how to deal with our children using it as today’s children and teenagers are, for just about everything including Sex-Texting. My first reaction would be to throw the Iphone in the trash, and take away the computer or tablet or whatever, and that would be it ! But like you point out that would just drive it underground and not solve anything except to alienate us away from our kids.

    Congress reaction is a knee-jerk over reaction at best, and leave it to them to screw things up when they become involved with folks private lives, seeing that, that is how they usually solve problems..

    Again, what do you suggest. and would be interested in hearing your opinion.

  • Mike Zim

    Children playing show-me-yours-I-show-you-mine on personal devices? Horrendous! Unconscionable! PERMANENTLY RUIN THEIR LIVES. People in positions of power engaging in actual child sex trade? Oh, well, that’s always gonna be around, cain’t be doin nothin’ about thats…

  • Garry Donaldson

    Ludicrous. Such laws are used to imprison anyone they need/want to who has done nothing else wrong. You can bet no government official or government supporter will get put away for it.

    • WeAreYourGods

      Thoughts of Anthony Weiner come to mind. I wonder what he’ll get for knowingly sexting a 15 year old for over 65 months. Probably a slap.

  • WeAreYourGods

    Obviously a parent shouldn’t “encourage” a kid to send porn pics to other kids. There are already laws for that, it’s called child endangerment. The idea of prosecuting teenagers for sexting other teens is fucking stupid, they can have actual sex legally, but they can’t send a pic of it to each other? I swear there will always be new efforts to prop up the prison industrial complex. Americans are a commodity to be used for profit by this nation’s scumbag corporatocracy.