A bill to ban teens from “sexting” has cleared its first legislative hurdle.
Sexting – the practice of sending illicit, nude photos via text message – is a growing problem among the nation’s teens, says state Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, the bill’s sponsor.
A study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that one in five teens has engaged in sexting and one in 10 has forwarded the messages to people they do not know.
“We want to identify this as not the right way to use your cellphone,” said Brady, who has been working to get the bill passed for two years. “Young people need to know that: It seems fun. It seems innocent. But it can have far-reaching consequences.”
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Under Brady’s bill, which cleared a House subcommittee Wednesday, teens 16 and under could be fined $100 if they forward to others a “sext.”
The boy or girl who sends or receives the “sext” would not get in trouble. But if they forward it on to a third party, they could be fined by a Family Court judge.
“The problem is when the boyfriend sends the text to the 500, 600 other students at school,” Brady said, adding, in high-profile cases in other states, students have committed suicide when private pictures of themselves were shared with other teens.
Brady said her proposal does not criminalize offenders. Their names would not be added to the sex offenders’ registration nor would they face jail time.
Still, some lawmakers said they agree in concept but worry about the details.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said he worries about the illicit photos being shared with law enforcement officials, attorneys and others because they will be evidence in a court case. He also wonders if the photos would be accessible to the media under the state’s open records laws.
“I agree with what (Brady) is trying to do, but we don’t want to victimize these teenagers all over again,” Rutherford said.
Molly Spearman, director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, said she hasn’t heard complaints from S.C. principals about sexting.
“But my guess is it’s happening here too,” Spearman said. “It’s a national issue.”
The bill now heads to a full House committee for consideration. If it passes the full House, the bill will go to Senate.