Juveniles caught sending sexually explicit photographs via their cell phones would not face criminal prosecution but rather intense education on the ramifications under a bill approved on Monday by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
The measure (A-1561) was approved 78-0 by the Assembly in March. It now moves to the full Senate for final legislative approval.
The measure is designed to curtail a practice known popularly as “sexting,” a problem that has increasingly perplexed parents, school administrators and authorities because of ambiguities in child pornography laws. Prosecutors in several states have even charged teenagers with criminal offenses, including distribution of child pornography.
“Teens need to understand the ramifications of their actions, but they shouldn’t necessarily be treated as criminals,” Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), a co-sponsor, said. “We need to create a path that places education and forgiveness before arrest and prosecution. Young people – especially teen girls – need to understand that sending inappropriate pictures is not only potentially illegal, but can leave an indelible mark on them socially and educationally.”According to a 2008 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, roughly one-in-five teens – including 11 percent of girls aged 13 to 16 – have sent a nude or semi-nude picture or video of themselves to friends or posted one on a website.
The measure would create an educational program as an alternative to prosecution for juveniles who otherwise could be charged with a criminal offense for posting or sending sexually suggestive or sexually explicit photographs. Participants would learn about the potential state and federal legal consequences and penalties for sexting as well as its personal costs – including the effect on relationships, its impact on school life and the loss of future employment opportunities. County prosecutors would determine who could be admitted into the program and juveniles who successfully complete it would avoid trial.