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According to Virginia law, anyone who sends or receives sexually explicit photos or videos of a minor may be charged with a felony. As the law currently stands, even teenagers who willingly send and receive "sexts" from other teenagers, could be charged with dissemination and possession of child pornography. Currently, in cases involving "sexting" amongst minors, prosecutors only have two options: do nothing or bring felony charges against a minor, who will be permanently labeled as a felony sex offender if convicted.

However, a new bill that passed in the Virginia Senate gives prosecutors a third option: to charge minors who send sexual images to another minor with a Class 1 misdemeanor, as long as the minor did not intend to harass or intimidate or extort money. If convicted, the minor could face up to a year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.

If the minor had less than 10 images with the permission of the person in the photos, they may face a lighter charge of Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. First time offenders may only face six months of probation and 50 hours of community service. The bill will soon proceed to the House of Delegates.

If it passes, this new bill may protect minors from having a felony conviction on their record for behavior that does not necessarily fit under the umbrella of "child pornography." Some argue that the new law as written could end up criminalizing possession of pornography by a minor, whether or not it features a minor. Others say that the new law may result in more minors facing criminal charges for things that their parents could easily punish at home. In any case, if the law passes, it could help many minors avoid a felony conviction and severe penalties.

Source: The Washington Post, "'Sexting teens could avoid felony charges under bill that clears Va. Senate," Laura Vozzella, Feb. 5, 2018

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