Megan Hansen, a psychology major at Post University, told legislators that she received a nude photo of a female classmate on her cellphone when she was in high school. The female classmate’s ex-boyfriend sent the photo to other students as revenge after the two broke up.
“When I received the picture, I felt embarrassed and ashamed for knowing that someone would do this to another person,” Hansen said.
Hansen and other Post University students were at the Capitol Monday testifying in favor of a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for teens to “sext” each other with sexually-explicit photos sent with a cellphone or other “electronic communication device.” Teens, like adults, currently face felony charges and could be forced to register as a sex offender for possessing child pornography if the person depicted in an explicit photo is underage.
According to a 2009 survey conducted by Cox Communications for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 19 percent of teens surveyed had sent, received or forwarded a sext message, either by cellphone or email. While 60 percent of those surveyed sent photos to a boyfriend or girlfriend, 11 percent sent them to someone they did not know.
Rep. William Hamzy, R-Terryville, asked Amanda Prince, a sociology major at Post University who was testifying, if she thought the act of sending a photo to a boyfriend or girlfriend should be treated differently than further dissemination of the photo, possibly by those intending to bully the subject.
“I think they should both be charged,” Prince said. But “sending the photo out of trust is different than sending it out of spite.”
Hamzy pointed out that the bill currently treats the two acts the same.
Prince said that she is against adolescents being charged with a felony for sexting but she agrees that it should be a misdemeanor. “I don’t think that something you do at 16 should follow you for the rest of your life.”
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, who helped draft the legislation, said in her written testimony that children don’t always understand the consequences of their actions. “This proposed bill allows the punishment to fit the crime and provides another option for prosecutors to hold minors accountable for their actions.”
But Lt. Paul Vance, state police spokesman, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of any teens having been arrested or prosecuted under the state’s child pornography statutes for sexting. He did say however, that if the facts showed they were in violation of the child pornography statutes, they would be charged with a felony.
Deborah Del Prete Sullivan, legal counsel and executive assistant public defender, said the Office of Chief Public Defender opposes the bill because it would target teens for consensual sexual activity.
She proposed that language be added to the bill allowing teens with no more than three years age difference to “consensually exchange” photos of themselves as longs as they are not distributed further. She noted that this would account for changes made to state law in 2007 increasing the maximum age difference for consensual sexual activity between teens from two to three years.
Michelle Cruz, the state Victim Advocate, said it is better to address the issue through education than establishing a criminal offense for teens. “The spirit and intent behind our state’s pornography statutes was not to penalize children who, in their infinite wisdom, decided to text their girlfriend or boyfriend a nude or partially naked photograph of themselves. The purpose of the pornography statutes was, rather, to protect our children.”
In a press release, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she supported the bill but asked the committee to add language that would also ban teens from texting sexually-explicit words as well as images.