In Colorado House new teen sexting crime falls short

DENVER – A proposal to ratchet back criminal penalties for teens exchanging nude images of themselves has failed in the state Legislature.

Democrats voted against the bill in a House committee Tuesday, and it failed by a single vote. Opponents worried that making the crime less serious would mean that some teen couples swapping consensual nude photos could be charged with the less serious crime.

“I don’t think that people have something against the idea of having a lesser charge, I think that it’s the ‘Wordsmithing’ of what that lesser charge looks like,” said Raana Simmons from Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Hopefully (we’ll) be able to differentiate between abusive sexting and the practice of what one would call consensual sexting.”

Last year in Canon City, more than 100 students were involved in a sexting scandal. Nude photos were shared through an app without the person necessarily knowing their photo was being shared. The District Attorney did not file charges because he did not want to make them face serious felonies that come with sex offender status.

“Technically, under the definition, this is child pornography, but we’re recognizing that’s not the intent of these young people. They’re doing it for a different reason. They think they’re doing it for an OK reason. We want them to know it’s dangerous,” said Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council. “What we’re trying to do is take away the fear of kids, of parents, of teachers; the fear of the potential of a class 3 felony sex offender filing.”

The proposal would have given prosecutors a new crime to charge minors with, either a misdemeanor or a petty offense.

“We did not want the bill to die, we just wanted it to be amended to protect victims,” said Simmons. “A policy that is designed to protect victims actually has the potential to prosecute them is something that we can’t support.”

“If it’s an arguably naive situation, where a young girl sent a picture to her boyfriend, and thought it wasn’t going anywhere, that’s a kid who never gets charged now and that’s a kid who we wouldn’t charge under the new law either,” said Raynes.

The measure could still become law. That’s because lawmakers on the closely divided committee voted to make it easier to reconsider the bill later.