Week 11: Sexting and Contraception

Week 11: Sexting and Contraception

What’s the hap at the cap? Colorado legislative updates affecting youth sexual health, from March 10th - March23rd.

By Liz McKay, Education and Policy Intern
March 24th, 2016

Sexting. You may have noticed it’s been in the news a lot in the past months after the “scandal” at Canon City High School that found hundreds of students had been sharing sexually explicit images of their peers. But did you know that sharing such images, or sexting, is actually considered distribution of child pornography, and is thus a federal crime?

While the students at Canon City ultimately did not face criminal charges, the event brought to light the fact that our policy around the sharing of electronic images is in serious need of an overhaul. On March 15th, a bipartisan bill, HB-1058, which would make the possession or distribution of sexually explicit images by a juvenile and of a juvenile a misdemeanor, was introduced to the Colorado House. Teens who are coerced, threatened or intimidated into taking and sending a sexually explicit image of themselves or teens whose self-made image is distributed by an aggrieved boyfriend/girlfriend could be charged with the misdemeanor offense, and would not be eligible to receive Crime Victim’s Compensation benefits to access resources for emotional injuries sustained that may occur as a result of their victimization. Additionally, what happens to teens that participated in consensual sexting where no harm has been done?

In it’s original form, HB-1058 would criminalize youth who voluntarily take and send an image of themselves to their romantic partner. And if the receiver violated their trust and privacy, there would be no legal recourse for the victim because he or she would have to admit to taking the picture in the first place and face legal consequences as well.

Punishment-based approaches to sexting rob young people of their sexual and bodily agency, inhibit positive youth development, and dismiss the concept that young people’s sexual desires are normal and healthy. Instead, there needs to be an emphasis on education - for young people and for adults. By informing people about the risks and benefits of sexting, we can break down stigma surrounding the practice, open productive lines of communication around the issue, and ensure that young people feel supported by their families and communities.

One proposed amendment to HB-1058 attempts to address this issue. It would make an exception for young people in a consensual sexting situation to only receive a petty charge that would eventually be expunged from their records. Colorado Youth Matter believes that this is still the wrong way to approach sexting, since consensual cases could still be punished and victims would be prohibited from any victims assistance services. Colorado Youth Matter and the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault brought together a coalition on the issue, which collectively supports alternative approaches that reject punishing young people. These include decriminalizing consensual sexting altogether, and implementing age guidelines similar to statutory rape laws that permit consensual sexting between minors within four years of age. After hours of heated testimony at the hearing in the Committee of Public Health Care and Human Services, the committee opted to postpone any voting to a later date.

Also on our radar over the past two weeks was the Contraception Equity Bill, HB-1294. This bill would mandate that private insurance and Medicaid must provide women any FDA-approved method of contraception free of cost. This would align Colorado state law with the federal Affordable Care Act’s policy on contraception, and would be an important step in breaking down barriers to contraception. Highly effective forms of birth control, like long acting reversible contraceptives (LARC), tend to be especially expensive, making them inaccessible for young people and those living in poverty. Colorado Youth Matter actively supports HB-1294, because it would increase access for young people to contraceptive resources that otherwise might have been out of reach.

A few updates from our last blog...

HB-1185, which would have simplified the process for a transgender person changing the sex on his or her birth certificate, failed in the Senate Committee of Veteran and Military Affairs 3-2 on party lines. This would have been an important step towards ensuring that transgender people are seen and respected by our government and is complementary to what many sexual health education curricula teach about respecting diverse genders and identities. We were disappointed to see the bill fail.

HB-1210, which would prohibit mental health providers from practicing conversion therapy, passed the full House 35-29, and will now go on to the Senate. Conversion therapy is an extremely harmful practice targeted at LGBTQ people which aims to “cure” them by changing their sexual orientation. Research shows that this practice is linked to long-term effects such as depression, suicide, high-risk sexual behaviors, and more. A heavily shame-based method, conversion therapy is directly at odds with comprehensive sex ed which, in Colorado, must be inclusive of LGBTQ youth.