A proposed law in Colorado is raising new questions about how to punish teens who engage in sexting. The measure would downgrade the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor, but some worry the softer penalty could turn more youngsters into law breakers, reports CBS News correspondent Vinita Nair.
Julie and Will Piller of Lafayette, Colorado say their kids have told them sexting is just part of modern teenage life.
"It's more widespread than I think we'd like to think it is," Julie said.
A new Colorado bill would reduce the penalty for an underage teen who sexts, making it a class two misdemeanor for electronically "distributing, displaying... publishing... or possessing, a sexually explicit image of himself or herself or of another juvenile."
Current statutes can consider underage teen sexting a form of child pornography, a felony requiring those convicted to register as sex offenders.
"This bill proposes a change that we're going to call 'misuse of electronic images.' It doesn't even carry the title 'sexting' -- the end result being, at the end of the day, when this juvenile progresses to adulthood, that case can be sealed from the public," said District Attorney George Brauchler.
Last year, an anonymous tip led officials at Colorado's Canon City High School to discover a large sexting scandal. They found hundreds of inappropriate images that had been collected and shared by their students, but prosecutors decided not to file charges.
"I think this new law is making this issue a lot worse," said Amy Hasinoff, assistant professor and author of "Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy and Consent." "It seems like a good idea. Sexting can technically count as child pornography, but a lot of prosecutors are really hesitant to use child pornography laws against teenagers."
Julie Piller also has reservations about the proposed bill.
"I'm concerned that kids might get more widely prosecuted because it would be a lesser charge. And so people might be more willing to prosecute," she said. "And so I don't think that's going to teach them the lessons we want them to learn."
The proposed bill does offer some additional protections for juveniles. They could defend themselves by proving they took "reasonable steps" in a timely manner to destroy, delete or report any explicit images they received.
If approved, the new law would go into effect on July 1st.
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