Monday, November 8, 2010

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Attorney General Abbott, Sen. Watson Announce Sexting Prevention Legislation

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Kirk Watson today announced an initiative to help prevent sexting.

Sexting – a harmful and dangerous practice – typically occurs when teenage students use cell phones to send each other sexually explicit messages or images electronically, primarily between cell phones. Improvements in cellular technology over recent years have dramatically expanded young Texans’ access to mobile telephones that can transmit sexual photographs and videos – which is why the problem is increasingly prevalent. A 2008 report from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy indicates that 22 percent of teen girls said they have electronically sent or posted online nude or semi-nude images of themselves.

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Sexting message senders have no control of their message’s ultimate distribution. Embarrassing or sexually explicit messages can be forwarded to other students and later spread quickly through a school or across the country. In some cases, sexting images can even get posted on public websites or fall into law enforcement authorities’ jurisdiction.

Under current Texas law, anyone who transmits an explicit image of a teen can face felony charges of possessing or trafficking child pornography. As a result, children who send images of themselves and their friends face serious criminal repercussions. Attorney General Abbott and Sen. Watson are proposing legal provisions for these youthful offenses – so minors are punished for improper behavior but do not face life-altering charges. Under their proposal, teen sexting would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by probation and restricted cell phone usage. Judges would also be authorized to sentence minors to participate in an education program about sexting’s long-term harmful consequences.

“Studies show that teenage students are increasingly taking, sending and receiving explicit pictures of themselves on their mobile telephones,” Attorney General Abbott said. “This practice is not just harmful to young Texans – it’s potentially illegal. We are joining with Sen. Kirk Watson to address this problem in the State of Texas and offer common-sense solutions that will help protect young Texans.”

Sen. Watson added: “The legislation that we are working on recognizes that sexting is wrong and illegal. This proposed new law would provide education for our children regarding the harm sexting causes, and it will give prosecutors an appropriate tool to stop this problem.”

In a study released this year, the Cyberbullying Research Center surveyed approximately 4,400 11-18 year-old individuals from a large school district in the southern United States. The results indicated that five percent of boys and three percent of girls acknowledged uploading or sharing a humiliating or harassing picture of their romantic partner online or through their cell phone. Six percent of boys and girls said their romantic partner posted something publicly online to make fun of, threaten or embarrass them.