According to state statute 6321, Pennsylvania sexting law, it is illegal for minors to create and send sexually-inappropriate images. However, the statute protects teen offenders from felony charges and sex offender registration, but not on all occasions.
- Sexual exploitation of children is a second-degree felony in Pennsylvania.
- State statute 1520 is Pennsylvania’s Diversion program for teens.
- The law requires the judge to prioritize the diversion program if the accused is below 18.
- 6321 is Pennsylvania’s teen sexting law.
- The law does not prevent prosecutors from pursuing other charges including child pornography possession.
- Nude selfies constitute child pornography in Pennsylvania.
- Unlawful contact with a child is a felony.
Pennsylvania sexting law summary
Under state statute 6321, it is unlawful for teens to knowingly disseminate, or possess, sexually explicit images of a child. The rule applies even if the person depicted is the possessor. Meaning, nude selfies taken by a teen are unlawful to possess or disseminate.
State and federal law define a child as anyone below 18. If the accused is below 18, and a first-time offender, prosecutors will likely pursue misdemeanor in the third degree or misdemeanor in the second degree charges. But section F of the statute requires the judge to first consider referring the minor to a diversion program.
§ 1520 “Adjudication Alternative Program” does not require the accused to plead guilty and, as mentioned, is only applicable to first-time offenders. The program includes work, education on the dangers of sharing indecent images, counseling, public service, job training, or other appropriate self-improvement programs or community service.
What if the accused fails to participate in the Adjudication Alternative Program?
If the offender fails to complete the program without good cause, the law allows the court to proceed with charges. It is also worth noting that the judge is immune from any civil action that may result from damages caused by the offender.
§ 6321: What to remember:
- The statute only applies if the victim is above twelve years of age and accused below 18.
- Nudity refers to the showing of human genitalia with less than a fully opaque covering.
- A teen is guilty of a third-degree misdemeanor if the individual knowingly disseminates explicit images of anyone above twelve, including self.
- The crime escalates into a second-degree misdemeanor if the accused creates and disseminates inappropriate images without the consent of the teen depicted with intent to coerce, torment, intimidate or emotionally distress the victim.
- The statute does not apply if the image or video involves sexual conduct, or if the media was for commercial purposes.
- All devices used in violation of the statute are subject to forfeiture.
- Upon successful completion of the diversion program, the teen’s record shall be expunged.
- Teen sexting is a summary offense in Pennsylvania.
Sexual conduct under the statute refers to acts, including intercourse, masturbation, bestiality, lewd exhibition of the genitals, or any media created for sexual gratification or stimulation.
When does sexting become child pornography in Pennsylvania?
Under state law, nude selfies or any media that depicts a minor (below 18) engaged in sexual conduct constitutes child pornography. Under state statute 6312 “sexual abuse of children” it is unlawful to possess, disseminate, produce, or entice or encourage a minor in any way to create sexually explicit images. Note that under the state’s child pornography laws, a minor cannot legally consent to be the subject of sexually explicit media. Consequently, Both the sender and receiver may face prosecution regardless of age.
Pennsylvania sexting laws and the PROTECT Act of 2003 (federal law)
PROTECT stands for “Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today.” The Act provides for mandatory life imprisonment for repeat sex offenders. It also places a minimum sentence of five years for distribution of child pornography, and fines and imprisonment for up to thirty years for engaging in illicit conduct abroad.
The Act also prohibits sculptures, drawings, and media that depict a child or situations that meet Miller’s Obscenity Test. What is millers test of obscenity?
According to Millers Test, media is obscene if quote:
“Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest. (2) Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law, (3) Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”
What to remember
- Parents who allow or encourage minors under their care to create porn may be tried under the PROTECT Act depending on the facts presented.
- Minors who commit felony child pornography or violate federal law may face trial as adults because of the Juvenile Federal Delinquency Act.
- Possessing Photoshop images or manipulated images depicting a child engaged in sexual conduct may warrant trial under the PROTECT act.
- Child pornography possession and dissemination are third-degree felonies. If the accused has priors, it escalates into a second-degree felony.
Pennsylvania sexting laws and sending obscene images to a minor
In Pennsylvania, an adult -that is- anyone above 18. who sends explicit materials to a minor, is guilty of Disseminating Obscene Materials to a Minor. Disseminating Obscene Material to a Minor is a third-degree felony that escalates into a second-degree felony if the accused has priors.
Adult or juvenile court?
Under state law, anyone above fourteen is eligible for prosecution in adult court. If the accused is below thirteen, the case will remain in the juvenile system and the accused will not have to register as a sex offender. However, once a teen is transferred to adult court, he or she will face adult punishment, including sex offender registration and time behind bars.
In the juvenile system, the punishment options include supervised probation, educational program, community service, or other rehabilitative measures.
What is the punishment for teen sexting in Pennsylvania?
Sharing a sext of another similar aged teenager is a misdemeanor that can be punished by up to one year in jail & up to $2,500 in fines. If the behavior can be considered harassment than these punishments can be doubled to two years in jail with up to $5,000 in fines.
Pennsylvania sexting laws and unlawful contact with a minor
Under Pennsylvania § 6318, an individual commits Unlawful Contact with a Minor if the accused contacts a child or law enforcement officer posing as a child with intent to engage in a prohibited act. Consequently, adult to minor sexting, open lewdness, and sending obscene material to a minor constitutes unlawful contact.
Note that Unlawful Contact and Soliciting a Minor for Sex or Sexual Conduct via Electronic Device are separate offenses. Furthermore, conspiring to, or attempting to commit either crime are also separate offenses. The point being the accused may face multiple charges.
Under state law, anyone convicted of Unlawful Contact with a Minor must register as a sex offender for life. The punishment is up to seven years in prison and a $15000 fine.
Pennsylvania sexting laws and online solicitation of a child
Title 18 § 6301 of Pennsylvania consolidated statutes states that it is unlawful for any adult to corrupt the morals of a minor. Under the statute, a person is guilty of corrupting a minor’s morals if the individual in any way aids, abets, or in any way encourages a child to commit any prohibited sexual act or crime.
Online solicitation of a child or corrupting the morals of a minor is a third-degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15000 fine.
What to remember:
- Prohibited acts include sex-related offenses, prostitution, obscene and other materials and performances, child sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation of children.
Pennsylvania sexting laws and sexual exploitation of children
§ 6320 states that an individual is guilty of Sexual Exploitation of Children if the person procures a child for sexual exploitation. Under the statute, “Sexual Exploitation” refers to actual or simulated sexual activity arranged with the aim of sexual stimulation or gratification of any person.
Sexual exploitation of children is a second-degree felony in Pennsylvania.
§ 3131 “unlawful dissemination of intimate image,” is Pennsylvania’s revenge porn law. Under the statute, disseminating explicit photos, still or moving, without the consent of the depicted individual is a second-degree misdemeanor. A second-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania is punishable by up to two years in prison, and a fine of up to $5000.
The victim may take civil action against the accused.
What if both the sender and receiver are minors?
The crime escalates into a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to five years in prison. Depending on the facts presented, prosecutors may also pursue possession and dissemination of child pornography, soliciting a minor for sexual conduct, and any of the charges mentioned above.
Pennsylvania sexting laws and cyber harassment of a child
Under state statute § 2709 section a.1. it is unlawful for anyone to use a phone or other means of communication, including social media to:
- Make disparaging statements or opinions about a child’s sexuality, physical health or condition, or sexual activity.
- Threaten to inflict harm upon the child
What to remember
- Juveniles prosecuted under this statute are eligible for a diversionary program.
- If the juvenile completes the diversionary program, the court will expunge his or her record.
- “Seriously Disparaging Statement” refers to any opinion, message, or statement that is likely to result in substantial emotional distress.
- 6321 Transmission of sexually explicit images by minor.
- PROTECT Act of 2003
- 6312 Sexual Abuse of Children
- 6318 Unlawful Contact with a Minor
- 3131 Unlawful Dissemination of Intimate Image
Other Pennsylvania Laws