Oklahoma Legislator taking aim at teen ‘sexting’

OKLAHOMA CITY — from www.tulsaworld.com – A state lawmaker hopes to clarify existing laws to combat teenage “sexting” without “creating a whole new generation of felons.”

Rep. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, sponsored a public hearing Thursday on the House floor to tackle the problem of sexting, a practice among teenagers of sending sexually explicit images or text over cell phones.

Pittman said she wants the hearing to serve as the first in a series of public discussions.

Parents have a responsibility to check children’s cell phones for inappropriate messages, said Heath Merchen, associate general counsel for the Oklahoma Education Association.

Merchen, a former prosecutor in Washington state, said children who send sexually explicit messages and photos could face charges.

Trent Baggett, assistant executive coordinator of the District Attorneys Council, said laws on the books covering child pornography and indecent exposure could be used to prosecute teenagers who send sexually explicit photographs. Even if a person did not request a sexually explicit picture of a child and received one, the person could be prosecuted if the image is not removed, he said.

Children who are prosecuted for sending inappropriate photos could be labeled as predators for the rest of their lives, Merchen said.

“Sexting destroys reputations and lives,” he said.

Jennifer McLaughlin of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault said future employers or colleges could
find the photographs online.

“It can be a lifelong mistake,” she said.

Parents have a responsibility to discuss the issue with children when inappropriate messages are found and take privileges away, Merchen said.

C. Mark Williams, an area manger in external affairs for AT&T, said phone companies can, at the request of a parent, turn off the multimedia function on a child’s phone.

Since 2005, 10 youths have been referred to the Office of Juvenile Affairs for possessing or publishing child pornography, said Kim Sardis, OJA’s Juvenile Services Division director. Three of those were for distributing pictures or videos over a cell phone, she said.

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