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New Legislation involving Sexting and Revenge Porn

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently introduced new legislation to address the advances in technology that have led to cases involving revenge porn and cases involving teenagers who engage in sexting. Revenge porn is becoming increasingly common with more and more states passing legislation to criminalize the act of posting revenge porn online. But what is revenge porn? Revenge porn describes people who seek revenge against a former spouse, partner, girlfriend, or boyfriend by posting sexually explicit photographs or videos of them online without their consent with the intent to embarrass, harass, or intimidate them.

Currently, in Massachusetts, there is no law that specifically punishes revenge porn. As the law stands today, a person can be criminally prosecuted if they record someone in a sexually explicit manner without their consent, either by recording them or photographing them, but it is not a criminal offense if the person had previously consented to the photos being taken or video being recorded. This new legislation will make it a criminal offense to post online any sexually explicit videos or photographs of an ex. Importantly for victims of revenge porn, the law would also allow judges to make any orders necessary to try and destroy any of the images. Unfortunately, as many victims of revenge porn have discovered once photos and videos are posted online, it is nearly impossible to ever completely erase them from the internet but a judge could ensure that any photos or videos still in the possession of the ex are destroyed.

The new legislation will also provide protections to teenagers who engage in sexting. Sexting is a term being used with more and more frequency andencompasses those who take sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves and send them to other people. As discussed in our previous blog, Statutory Rape and Sex Education for High School Students, middle school and high school aged children need to be made aware of the legal ramifications of sexting. As the law stands today, any person 17 years old or younger who takes, sends, receives, or possesses a sexually explicit photograph or video of another person 17 years old or younger can be charged with a child pornography-related offense. For example, if 17-year-old Jason asks his 16-year-old girlfriend Jane to send him a nude photograph, Jason can be charged with Production of Child Pornography because he asked her to take the photograph and Jane can be charged with Dissemination of Child Pornography because she sent the photograph. These are very serious charges that can lead to prison time and a requirement to register as a sex offender.

The child pornography laws were never intended to criminalize the sexting of teenagers but rather to punish those that prey on young children. The legislation being proposed by Governor Baker gives discretion to district attorneys in these types of cases. The law promotes an educational diversion program for teenagers to participate in regarding the ramifications of sexting. District Attorneys will also be able to use their discretion in determining whether to charge a juvenile and may choose to charge the juvenile with a misdemeanor instead of a felony. This critical piece of legislation will finally recognize that teenagers who engage in sexting should be treated different from the adults who trade and produce child pornography. Juveniles will finally be treated as children who are in need of education regarding sexting as opposed to criminalizing them and labeling them as sex offenders for their foreseeable future.

While Governor Baker has introduced this legislation, the next step is for the legislation to pass the House and then the Senate. This legislation is a huge step forward for Massachusetts and addresses loopholes in the laws that district attorneys and criminal defense attorneys have been trying to address for years. It is important to remember though that until the legislation passes, and becomes law, sexting between teenagers is a child pornography offense which can lead to a juvenile being removed from their home and being required to register as a sex offender.

Contact us at Sweeney & Associates today if your child has been charged with a criminal offense involving child pornography or any sex-related offense. We can help you! We can be reached at (617) 328-6900 or email us at mail@rsweeneylaw.com. For more information go to our website at www.rsweeneylaw.com.

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