The practice of “sexting,” or sending sexually explicit photos of oneself via a computer or other digital device, has officially been made illegal for minors in the state of Rhode Island.
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee signed the law, which could result in offenders under the age of 18 being charged with a “status” offense in family court, into effect on Tuesday.
Those who receive the explicit texts and choose to pass them on could face even stricter penalties than those who originally sent them.
Amy Kempe, a spokesperson for the state's attorney general, in an interview with the Cranston-based WJAR NBC 10 news station said, “If the person who receives this sexually explicit image of an underage person sends it out...they could be charged under the state's child pornography laws and could have to register as a sex offender.”
While many agree that sexting is a big problem among today's youth, many don't agree with the harsh penalties that the law could dish out, citing the lifetime of grief that those charged could face for a single act committed as a minor.
The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union defended minors who engage in sexting, saying that they shouldn't be treated as criminals. A statement on the chapter's website reads, “The ACLU argued that while children should be educated about the dangers of sending sexually explicit e-mails and texts, the practice should not be criminalized.”
But Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin says he just wants to help protect kids.
“In today’s world,” he said in a statement after the bill passed, “many people choose to communicate via the Internet and cell phones. Youth especially have embraced new technologies such as text messaging, social networking sites, and digital cameras to share information and connect with friends. However, without proper guidance, these types of communication technologies can be dangerous to a child’s physical and psychological well-being,”
Kilmartin is encouraging parents to go to his office's website, where Rhode Islanders can download a contract for parents and their children, which outlines safe and proper guidelines for using cell phones and the Internet.
“Talking to children early and often will help to protect them from the dangers that can lurk in cyberspace,” he says.