On August 25 the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee took up the issue of teens and “sexting.” Sexting by teens generally refers to the sending of sexually suggestive or explicit text messages between peers, but the issue also includes the same material shared via emails, social media postings, and other venues for online communication. The committee was assigned with a review of the topic by the 2010 General Assembly under SEA 224, which also allowed school corporations to begin offering classes or instruction regarding the risks and consequences of sexting.
Developing policies appropriate for teens
According to a survey released by the Pew Research Center in December 2009, 4% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 have sent sexually provocative images of themselves to someone else via text message, while 15% have received such images from someone they know. Older teens are much more likely to engage in such behavior, with 8% of 17‐year‐olds having sent a nude or semi‐nude image by text and 30% having received such an image.
State Sen. Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte) is a former LaPorte County Sheriff and a member of the committee. He said, “Like other criminal policies dealing with minors, this needs to be done with care to curb the activity while being mindful that we are most often dealing with teenage offenders and victims.”
“Because of the potential consequences for the young people involved, this is not an issue where broad generalities can be made,” Arnold warned.
Watch a video update on “sexting” from Senator Arnold below:
An August 25 story in the Wall Street Journal explained why the matter is more complicated.
“While many of the new rules make sexting punishable by small fines and short stints in a juvenile-detention facility, there is still little agreement on what the appropriate penalty is—or whether prosecutors should be involved at all.
Some attorneys view sexting by teenagers as a comparatively tame activity that is best handled by parents and teachers. Others disagree, stressing the extreme and lasting humiliation that young victims of sexting are likely to experience. ”
Sexting, cyberbullying, harassment, and dating violence
The connection between sexting and cyberbullying, harassment, and dating violence is also a concern. According to a study published by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, “several teen suicides have been blamed on the distribution of sexted images beyond what the subject of the image contemplated and the bullying that followed.”
Other state actions
According to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University report,
“The most common legislative response thus far has been to modify criminal laws by downgrading certain child exploitation‐related felony offenses to misdemeanors or status offenses when committed in the context of sexting. These provisions generally call for less severe punishments, exclusion from sex offender registries, and expungement of juvenile records where the subject, possessor, and sender of the sexually explicit image are minors close in age.”
According to NCSL,
“In Utah, lawmakers passed legislation that sets misdemeanor charges for children age 17 and under who distribute pornographic material.
Nebraska enacted new child pornography provisions that allow an affirmative defense for minors who possess sexually explicit images of children age 15 and older, as long as the images are of only one child, were taken without coercion, and were not forwarded to anyone else.
In Vermont legislation passed this year , minors charged with sexting would be dealt with in juvenile court rather than being subject to sexual exploitation laws and sex offender registration requirements. Sexual predators who use sexting to contact children will face charges under new laws in Nebraska and Colorado, and also in Oregon if new provisions in the state’s child luring law are enacted. New Jersey has introduced similar legislation.”
Next steps in Indiana
More testimony and consideration may be on future agendas for the committee this fall. The committee is expected to make recommendations for 2011 legislation.
The Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee is one of many interim committees and permanent commissions convened annually by the General Assembly to conduct in-depth research and analysis of issues affecting the state. Recommendations from these committees are often the basis for future legislation. More information about committee topics, schedules and agendas is available online at www.in.gov/legislative/interim.