A new law in New Mexico means adolescents can now send explicit pictures, and as long as they are consensual, will not risk having any charges brought against them. The proposal specifies that minors who engage in sexting are exempted from prosecution if they “knowingly and voluntarily” exchange pictures without any intimidation involved.
As The Guardian reports, Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican, signed a proposal allowing adolescents between 14- to 18-years-old to engage in sexting without facing child pornography charges, harsh prison sentences, or having tainted criminal records.
“Kids will be kids; they are always going to make mistakes. You can’t punish them for the rest of their lifetime with a charge of child pornography…if they’re consensually sending pictures back and forth.” said Senator George Muñoz, a Democrat, who wrote the legislation removing sexting from child exploitation laws.
— Houston Post (@irlazareva53384) February 27, 2016
Prior to the law passed on Thursday, New Mexico minors who were caught by their parents exchanging sexually suggestive photos could be reported to authorities and face charges of possessing and distributing images.
In addition, prosecutors could file charges for each image, meaning teens who had been exchanging a trail of photos through messaging applications would attract longer sentences, a move that was been welcomed by legislative coordinator for the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Rikki-Lee Chavez.
— MTV News (@MTVNews) February 18, 2016
However, since juvenile records are sealed, it is difficult to find out teens getting charged and if it led to any convictions. But there are defense lawyers who have represented teens charged with sexual exploitation, which has clearly constituted sexting.
The bill has already sparked plenty of controversy. But defense lawyers insist that majority of adolescents are not aware of the severity and legal consequences of sexting, a common trait in the Smartphone age. A recent sext scandal in Colorado saw police discovering high school and middle school students exchanging hundreds of nude pictures, and prosecutors considered filing felony charges. But the district attorney’s office decided against it.
“Most people from a commonsense perspective; agree that is not behavior that should be regarded as criminal. It’s misguided behavior and certainly parents should get involved. But kids shouldn’t be charged…it’s absurd,” said Steven Robert Alley of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.
According to the journal Pediatrics, teens who sext are more likely to be sexually active in less than a year. They are also likely to have multiple partners, pay little attention to birth control, and do drugs and alcohol. The study concluded by saying sexting was the new “normal” of teenage sexual behavior.
Most states have not updated their child abuse image laws. But supporters of the New Mexico bill hope other legislatures take a cue and do the same. Muñoz, who pushed for sexting reform and an amendment for stiffer penalties against child pornography, said “Our laws have to change with technology.”
The state attorney general, Hector Baldera slammed the sexting proposal and deemed it as dangerous. “I cannot support an amendment that weakens protection against teenagers from predatory activity and creates a dangerous new child exploitation loophole,” he said in a statement.
Martinez disagreed with the proposal offered by Muñoz. But she passed it because of the tougher stance towards child pornography. Martinez in a released statement said that she did not support the “sexting” amendment believing the rationale behind it was misinformed and not considered carefully, promising that legislature would be told to work on it in the next session. Many parents see it as a dangerous situation whereby children with stronger personalities would exploit other kids.
Do you think New Mexico is right to allow sexting between consenting teenagers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
[Image via Shutterstock/file404]