TRENTON–Legislation that would allow teens charged with “sexting” to avoid criminal prosecution and instead enter into an educational program cleared the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee on Monday.
“Many young people simply don’t know the dangers associated with ‘sexting’ and may not have been educated on the subject,” said state Sen. Jim Beach (D-Camden), who sponsored the bill. “In some instances, it would simply be unfair to slap a criminal charge on their record for something they may not realize was wrong. Instead, we need to educate them on the issue so that they can avoid taking part in the future and can also let their friends know how serious this problem is.”
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported in December 2009 that four percent of teens ages 12 to 17 who own cell phones have sent nude or nearly nude images or videos of themselves, while 15 percent in that group have received such images of someone they know.
The bill, S-2700, would limit admission to the educational program to cases where the juvenile has not been previously convicted of certain enumerated sexually related crimes; the juvenile was not aware that his or her actions could constitute a crime and did not have the intent to commit any of the enumerated offenses; the juvenile’s offense is related to a condition or situation that would be conducive to change through his or her participation in the educational program; and the benefits to society in admitting the juvenile into this educational program outweigh the harm done to society by abandoning criminal prosecution.
The Attorney General, in consultation with the Administrative Office of the Courts, would develop the educational program. The program would include information regarding the legal consequences of “sexting”, the non-legal consequences of “sexting”, the long term impacts of engaging in the activity, and the possible connection between bullying and cyber-bullying and juveniles sharing sexually suggestive or explicit materials. The bill would take effect the first day of the seventh month following enactment.
The legislation now heads to the full Senate.
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