NJ Legislation Addresses "Sexting"

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If you haven’t heard of it, “sexting” is the practice of sending nude or sexually explicit material by way of text message and attachment. It’s fairly easy and impulsive. All you really need is an Internet enabled cell phone and the subject matter. And that’s were the law comes in.

Sexing is a phenomena that has arisen among teens, although many of us are more familiar with the version where a sitting US Congressman sends a picture of his “package.” For teens, it can range from bragging to friends all the way through bullying and harassment. While it may seem strange to other generations, the cell phone and sending pictures is natural to these younger folks. Like all tools we take for granted, the ability to capture and share an image can, and is, being abused.

One particularly harsh consequence comes up when a revealing image is that of a minor. The law doesn’t distinguish between child pornography when it is taken by an underaged peer from that shared by an adult. In fact, it doesn’t even take into account when a teen is sending an image of themselves.

The consequence is that an impulsive, underaged teen might snap a nude or partially nude photo of themselves in the mirror and send it along. They have, under the law, committed the equivalent of sending child porn by electronic means.

Does that sound farfetched? It was enough of a problem that the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill the end of last year to allow prosecutors some leeway. The Governor has since signed it into law. Without the legislation, prosecutors only had the choice to prosecute under child pornography laws or drop the case altogether. Now, with an amendment to the criminal code, minors can be shunted into a program for first time offenders. The program educates kids on the consequences of sexting, both social and legal.

The older laws remain in force in other states.

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