Arizona Senate cracks down on teen ‘sexting’

Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

March 3, 2010 – 7:34PM

  Teens who send naked pictures of themselves by cell phones or e-mails could soon wind up in legal hot water.

On a 23-5 margin the Senate voted Wednesday to make it a crime for anyone younger than 18 to send images of nudity or sexual activity by a cell phone or computer. Violators would end up in juvenile court.

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said the practice of “sexting” already is illegal. In fact, she said, it’s considered sexual exploitation of a minor, a felony, with violators required to register as sex offenders.

LaWall said SB1266, which now goes to the Senate, gives prosecutors the opportunity to file less-serious charges.

The other alternative, she said, is to do nothing. And that, LaWall said, is not an option for what she said is becoming nearly epidemic among the young teen set, especially middle school students.

“When you ask these kids, ‘Would you take your clothes off in front of your friends?’ they go, ‘Of course not!’” she said. “But what they don’t realize is that taking nude pictures of themselves and sending it out over the phone, they’re taking their clothes off in front of many, many, many people. These are pictures that are out there” on social networking Web sites.

And, she added, “they’re being collected much in the same way that young kids collect baseball cards. It’s become a badge of honor for a lot of young men to have hundreds of these photos collected on their phones.”

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said she understands the legislation is intended to protect youngsters from more serious charges.

“But it does not do that,” she said. Nor does Lopez believe it discourages teens from sexting in the first place.

“It actually pushes more children into the juvenile justice system because of the punitive nature of it,” Lopez said. She said a better alternative is educating teens about the practice.

LaWall said education is fine. But she said that the only way prosecutors can ensure that teens change their behavior is to file charges that are appropriate to the activity rather than seeking a felony conviction.

She said that doesn’t necessarily mean a juvenile record. LaWall said that those accused of this kind of offense can be put into diversion programs where both teens and their parents learn that this kind of behavior is not acceptable.

She also rejected the argument that the measure is making criminals out of what might simply be stupid teen behavior.

“Some of these young girls are being induced, persuaded to engage in an act that goes beyond just stupidity,” LaWall said. “Swiping a lipstick from Target may be stupid conduct.”

But this kind of activity, she said, has led to teens whose nude photos have wound up on Web sites quitting school in embarrassment or even committing suicide.

And LaWall said it would be a mistake to think of what is being texted as juvenile hijinks. She said what is being sent out is more than a girl taking a photo of her breast and sending it off to her boyfriend.

“We’ve got kids transmitting sexual images of themselves committing oral sex,” LaWall said, or even engaging in sex with inanimate objects.

LaWall said she believes that bringing charges against some teens helps not only the youngsters who get caught. She said other kids will “learn that this is not appropriate societal behavior.”

Courtesy of

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