Update: Thankfully, H.R. 1761 failed to progress in the 2017-2018 legislative session. If the bill is reintroduced in the 2019-2010 session, it will be under a different bill number.
The Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act (H.R. 1761) would do the opposite of what its name suggests—it would directly harm young people by subjecting them to 15 year mandatory minimum prison terms, along with sex offender registration, for the developmentally normal behavior of sexting with their peers.
Federal criminal law already specifies a 15 year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for many offenses that are classified as child pornography offenses. This mandatory minimum term is often criticized by sentencing judges, because it is not flexible enough to take account of mitigating circumstances that could justify the imposition of a lesser sentence, such as the fact that the unlawful images were of a similar-age partner, or that the defendant’s compulsion to collect the images was influenced by autism.
But here’s how the Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act would make existing federal law even worse—it would make minors liable for attempting to send or receive an image even if none was actually sent. For example, a teenager who requested their partner to send them a nude photo could be charged, even if their partner refused to send it.
The distribution of unlawful images of minors is already heavily criminalized under both state and federal law, and prosecutors already have ample discretion to bring charges against defendants in the circumstances covered by this bill. Yet the Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act passed the House of Representatives without opposition, due to the toxic political environment that surrounds child protection.
The only effect of this bill would be to turn more young people into criminals for consensual sexting with similar-age partners, an act which may be foolish, but is not deserving of criminal sanctions—especially not such severe sanctions as these. Prostasia opposes the Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act because it would do more harm than good to those it aims to protect.
You can help to ensure that this bill progresses no further by contacting your Senator using the form below and asking them to vote against the bill when it is introduced into the Senate, or at least to ensure that the bill includes robust exceptions for teenagers and their close-in-age partners.