States weigh relaxing penalties for teen sexting

“The law has to acknowledge the intent of the person sending the photo,” she said. “Right now, laws designed to protect children are being used to punish them.”

The legislation working its way through the Rhode Island General Assembly would make sexting by minors a juvenile offense similar to truancy. The bill has passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate. Under current law, minors who transmit indecent photos of themselves could face criminal penalties—including prison time and fines of up to $5,000.

Teens who forward indecent photos of other minors, however, still could face child pornography charges.

State Sen. John Tassoni led a state task force examining cyber bullying and other problems caused by teens using technology in inappropriate ways. He said parents and schools can help stop sexting by reminding students that mistakes committed in cyberspace can have long-lasting, real-world consequences.

But as Weiner’s recent case shows, he said, there’s no age limit for inappropriate internet use. And Tassoni doesn’t see the problem going away anytime soon.

“I tell these kids that whatever they’re putting out there will live forever,” said Tassoni, D-Smithfield. “We need to discourage it, but charging them with felonies doesn’t seem to be the way to do it.”

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