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Should sexting among teens be a felony sex offense?

Lawmakers in New Jersey and around the country are working to update existing state laws concerning possession and distribution of child pornography in order to deal with the growing incidence of "sexting" between teens.

According to the American Bar Association Journal, prosecutors and lawmakers don't want to completely decriminalize sexting because they want to discourage the practice. Sexting a photo to the phone of a friend may seem relatively harmless, but the photo can then be distributed widely to other phones or circulated on the Internet for a long, long time.

On the other hand, prosecutors don't want to prosecute teens as sex offenders for sexting either. Existing laws need to be updated so that a minor sending a nude or semi-nude photo of themselves to another minor would not be prosecuted for a felony sex offense and required to register as a sex offender as would the person who received or possessed the image.

In March, the state assembly in New Jersey voted to allow first-time sexting offenders to undergo a diversionary program, rather than face harsher criminal charges and sanctions.

Even though state laws are being changed to make sexting among teens a lesser offense, these same teens could be prosecuted under federal law for more serious sex crimes, according to a recent article by the American Bar Association Journal.

According to the ABA Journal, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), argues that no minors should ever face criminal sex crimes charges for sending digital nude or semi-nude photos of themselves to other minors because it falls under their First Amendment rights to free expression. If nonconsensual electronic distribution of photos is involved, minors could be prosecuted for harassment.


'Sext' Education: States Look for Ways to Chastise Teens for Bawdy Cellphone shots (ABA Journal)

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