Sexting: the sending of sexually explicit digital images, videos, text messages, or emails, usually by cell phone.
Okay parents it is time you had “the talk” with your children about using their cell phones for sexting. The General Assembly for the state of Tennessee just concluded their session for the year. But before leaving, they addressed the issue.
Under the bill the Senate passed by a 26-2 vote Wednesday, authorities could charge minors with an “unruly offense” in juvenile court. Unruly offenses currently include such infractions as skipping school or violating curfew. The House passed the bill last week, and Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to sign it into law by July 1, 2017. The bill, which is sponsored by Republican Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin, says juveniles won’t face charges if they tell a parent or other authority figure that they received the pictures or if they delete them.
Actually the “unruly offense” is not as bad as it seems. Originally anyone accused and convicted of sexting could have been charged under T.C.A. 39-17-1003. Offense of Sexual Exploitation of a Minor. A lot of states still rely on child pornography laws as to sexting.
States such as Alabama have not addressed teen sexting laws and a person sending sexually explicit images of a teen can be charged with violating the state’s child pornography laws. You see, a 19 year old is legally an adult in Alabama and could face a lengthy sentence if convicted of child pornography even though they believed it was harmless event. Even minors (under age 18) who sent sext messages to other minors may be charged under that state’s general child pornography laws.
Before Florida changed their sexting laws in 2011 a teenager could have been convicted of a felony and forced to register as a sexual offender. Now a first offense is punishable by 8 hours of community service or a $60 find; the second is a misdemeanor and the third is a felony.
“Sexting” is a fairly new concept in today’s endless world of wireless communication but it has not gone unnoticed by professionals that are involved with teenagers on a regular basis. It has been noted that ‘it is good lawmakers don’t want kids to face serious sex-offender charges for sending the images, they do think that they should not be charged at all in cases where it’s consensual’. Where do you draw the line?
There needs to be a safe environment for teens who truly are being exploited to come forward and address the issue. They should not have to fear they will be prosecuted or even threatened by well meaning adults that they could face criminal punishment just because an image shows up on their phone. Fortunately legislators across the country are recognizing this problem and are offering solutions instead of just legal prosecution and allow for community service or participation in an educational class.