CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A group of lawmakers is exploring protecting young people who send sexually explicit photos by cell phone — commonly called “sexting” — from being charged under New Hampshire’s child pornography laws.
A House Criminal Justice and Public Safety subcommittee is looking at whether the state should carve out a limited exception for youths who send the photos to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Chairman Stanley Stevens, R-Wolfeboro, said Tuesday the panel is trying to determine if legislation is needed.
Images of child abuse are illegal to possess or distribute in New Hampshire.
This year, at least nine states introduced legislation aimed at sexting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Utah, a new law makes it a misdemeanor rather than a felony for children age 17 or younger to distribute pornographic material. Nebraska passed new child pornography provisions that provide an affirmative defense for minors who possess sexually explicit images of children, age 15 or older, if the images are of one child, were taken without coercion and were not forwarded.
In Vermont, minors charged with sexting would be sent to juvenile court.
Stevens said Tuesday that lawmakers don’t want youths labeled as sex offenders for possessing a sexually explicit photo as part of a romantic relationship. The exception under discussion would only apply to youths whose age differences are four years or less, he said.
The exception would include youths 17 or older who are still in high school and who now would be treated as adults under the state’s criminal code. For example, an 18-year-old boy who is sent a photo from his 14-year-old girlfriend could not be charged with possessing child pornography as is possible under current law, he said.
Stevens said youths who distribute the photos outside the relationship or post them on the Internet would not be protected by the exception.
Assistant Attorney General Lucy Carrillo said law enforcement isn’t sure how to address the social phenomenon.
“It’s happening, honestly, not as much in high school as in middle school and elementary school,” she told the subcommittee.
Carrillo said youths who exploit themselves don’t understand the repercussions that can last for years if the pictures are posted on the Internet. Carrillo said the attorney general’s office believes parental involvement and education are preferable to charging young people with a crime for creating the photos.
She said forwarding the images to others is harder to excuse if they end up in many hands or are posted on the Internet.
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