Attorney General Abbott Applauds Governor Perry for Signing Sexting Prevention Legislation into Law 6/21/11
CBS 7 News
June 21, 2011
AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today thanked Gov. Rick Perry for signing Senate Bill 407 into law on Friday. The bipartisan bill, which was authored by Sen. Kirk Watson and sponsored in the House by Rep. Tom Craddick, is intended to prevent teenage minors from sending, creating or redistributing text messages that contain sexually explicit images of themselves and fellow teenagers. In February, Attorney General Abbott joined Sen. Watson at the Capitol to express his support for SB 407, which establishes a mechanism for holding teenage minors accountable for sexting – without subjecting them to serious criminal penalties with life-long consequences.
“Studies show that teenage students are increasingly creating, sending and receiving explicit pictures of themselves on their mobile telephones,” Attorney General Abbott said. “This practice is not just harmful to the young Texans who appear in compromising photographs – it poses significant legal risks. Thanks to Sen. Kirk Watson’s legislation, Texas has a common-sense law that holds wrongdoers accountable – but does not impose life-altering consequences on young offenders.”
Before the passage of SB 407, any person – including a teenage minor – who transmits an explicit image of a minor could have been prosecuted for felony child pornography possession or trafficking violations. As a result, children who sent illicit images of themselves or their friends faced felony charges with life-long consequences. SB 407 gives prosecutors the ability to pursue less draconian criminal charges against minors who create and sent text messages containing illicit pictures of other minors because it creates a misdemeanor offense for minors.
Under the new law, effective Sept. 1, prosecutors can charge teenagers who engage in sexting with a misdemeanor and can request that the court sentence minors to participate in an education program about sexting’s harmful long-term consequences. SB 407 also requires the Texas School Safety Center, in consultation with the Texas Attorney General’s office, to develop an educational program that school districts can use to address the consequences of sexting.
“This bill is a timely, thoughtful, bipartisan response to a 21st Century legal issue facing kids and prosecutors. This problem must be met head-on with both educational opportunities and appropriate consequences,” Senator Watson said. “We've given law enforcement an alternative for dealing with juveniles who make a mistake, and we've left prosecutors the discretion to pursue felony charges against those who constitute a true threat to our children.”
Sexting typically occurs when teenage students use cell phones to send each other sexually explicit messages or images electronically. A 2008 report by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy indicates that 22 percent of teenage girls reported electronically sending or posting online nude or semi-nude images of themselves.
Cell phone users who send text messages – including messages containing pornographic content – cannot control their message’s ultimate distribution. Because recipients can forward messages to third party recipients, as a result, 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.
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. According to the survey, 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 humiliate, threaten or embarrass them.