Nancy Willard - author, lawyer, and expert on sexting - has seen this picture before:

A teenage girl sends an intimate photo of herself to a boyfriend, who becomes an ex-boyfriend, who forwards the image to his buddies.

Soon his pals are frog-marched out of school in handcuffs, their case hits the media, and legislators harrumph with well-meaning ham-handedness.

There is no better recipe for bad law, she says, than one that combines teens, sex, and technology.

So Pennsylvania lawmakers need to think a little more before going forward with their latest effort to outlaw sexting, says Willard, who directs the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use.

The law shouldn't victimize the victim. But Willard says that's just what this one would do.

As Inquirer staff writer Trish Wilson reported on Monday, Pennsylvania has joined 20 states in responding to sexting with new legislation. State Rep. Seth Grove, a York County Republican, said he began crafting House Bill 2189 after 18 students at his alma mater were arrested for allegedly circulating naked photos of two teenage girls.

His thought: There ought to be a law.

His bill attempts to assist district attorneys who complained they needed finer tools than felony child-pornography laws to prosecute acts that may prove to be little more than youthful indiscretions.

But Willard argues that the measure, now before the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrongly exposes those depicted in the photos to criminal liability.

In most cases, the person pictured is a confused, hormonally crazed kid, says Willard, an Oregon mother of three who used to teach at-risk children. She says the law fails to understand that teens do stupid things with phones under pressure from others.

She cites an MTV study that found that 61 percent of young people who provided nude photos had been pressured to do so.

By holding the subjects of these pictures liable, the legislation also makes it unlikely, she says, that the teens pictured will cooperate with authorities.

So when someone starts to blackmail that girl - send more or I'll pass these around - "she's stuck," Willard says. "You are placing that teen in a no-win situation." There are too many examples already, she said, of sexting leading to suicide.

Andy Hoover, legislative director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, has a response to the instinct to create a law against sexting:

There already is a law.

That could be anything from disorderly conduct to harassment to sexual abuse of children, he says. Civil law allows penalties for invasion of privacy.

Hoover finds other problems with the House bill. For one thing, it expands the federal law's definition of sexual explicitness beyond lewd depictions of genitalia. If passed, Pennsylvanians could be in trouble for sending lewd pictures of bare breasts and buttocks as well.

Maybe we should just relax, Willard says, protect children from abusers, and let schools and parents deal with sexting.

And maybe we should ask our kids to put down the phones for a second and talk. Let them know that the more provocative the photo, the more likely it is to be sent around. Tell them that passing around these pictures is not just wrong; as Willard puts it:

"Tell them of the incredible power and control they're putting in someone else's hands to destroy your reputation. That's the message that teens will resonate most to."

In the spring, as she was writing a report called Sexting & Youth: Achieving a Rational Response, Willard was surprised to read an AARP study that noted that adults 50 and older were increasingly sending text messages to spice up their sex lives.

That made her think sexting was a pretty normal phenomenon. It made me think that nothing would chill kids' sexting more than the possibility that the picture they call up could be of some, you know, old geezer.

Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917 or