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NEW: Anti-Sexting Law Could Snare College Students

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

 

A new law aimed at cracking down on sexting among teens could have the unintended consequence of landing college students in serious legal trouble, local researchers are warning.

Under the new law, minors who transmit sexually explicit images of themselves may be charged with a “status” offense in Family Court while those who possess or forward such images of another minor may be persecuted under child pornography laws. They could also have to register as a sex offender.

"While it is important to protect minors and help them recognize the short- and long-term implications of sending sexually explicit images, opening them up to something as serious as potential child pornography charges may not be the most effective course of action,” said Tiffani S. Kisler, an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island Department of Human Development and Family Studies and author of a new study on sexting among college students.

The study, co-authored with Sue Adams, found that 56 percent  of college students had at some point received sexually suggestive images and 78 percent had received sexually suggestive messages. As for passing along these explicit texts, 17 percent of recipients admit to forwarding the messages and images to other people.

Adams said first-year college students are particularly at risk under the new law.

"College freshmen are right at that 17- and 18-year-old threshold," said Adams. "Whether it is classmates in college or friends from high school, we have to wonder how many students are thinking about the ages of the people they are communicating with.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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