PROVIDENCE – A new law aimed at minors forbids “sexting” — the practice of sending sexually explicit photos of yourself to others by cell phones and myriad other electronic devices. But at the same time, the law prevents a foolish teenaged prank from being punished as serious child pornography.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed into law this week a bill making sexting by minors a “status offense” to be dealt with in Family Court.
But possession or transmission of sexually explicit photos of minors still can be prosecuted under the state's child pornography laws, and if convicted, the perpetrator may have to register as a sex offender.
So if a 16-year-old girl sends a sexually explicit photograph of herself to her 16-year-old boyfriend, both would wind up in Family Court. But if the boyfriend then posted the photo on the Internet or Facebook, or forwarded it to others by e-mail, he could be subject to the harsher child pornography laws.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin wants to spread the word about the new law.
"In today's world, many people choose to communicate via the Internet and cell phones. Youth especially have embraced new technologies such as text messaging, social networking sites, and digital cameras to share information and connect with friends. However, without proper guidance, these types of communication technologies can be dangerous to a child's physical and psychological well-being,"
One answer, Kilmartin said, is “talking to children early and often” about the dangers that can lurk in cyberspace. Make sure to review your house rules and conduct with your children before giving them access to Web-enabled technologies and cell phones. Along with discussing your expectations for their behavior, discuss the consequences for failing to meet those expectations, such as restricted access to Web and texting functions."
To help parents, Kilmartin has posted information about the new law and how to prevent sexting on his website, www.riag.ri.gov  . It also includes a “contract” for parents and children to sign that sets up guidelines and rules for using the Internet and cell phones.
It includes provisions such as, “I will think before I post,” “I will respect other people online” and “I will be careful when meeting online friends in person.”
Teens taking pictures of themselves and sending them online “are not thinking two or three steps down the line,” said Kilmartin spokeswoman Amy Kempe, adding that such behavior can lead to “serious problems.
The bill was authored by Newport Rep. Peter Martin, who said, “Obviously, we would hope that children would not be engaged in this kind of activity, but we also want to ensure that a stupid act at a young age does not follow a child for all his or her life.
“Along with all the good that instant, electronic communication has brought us, it has also opened the way for sending and receiving material that is sexually explicit and, in my opinion, highly objectionable for young people,” Martin added. “With this bill, we are trying to protect young people from themselves and from the impulsive decisions they sometimes make that could haunt them for years or even a lifetime.”