Kentucky tries to craft fitting punishment for 'sexting'

FRANKFORT — Kentuckians under age 18 who are caught "sexting" — sending sexually explicit photos of themselves or other minors on cell phones — would face fines and community service under a bill a Senate committee unanimously approved Thursday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee made only a few changes in House Bill 143 and sent it to the full Senate for its consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Martha Jane King, D-Lewisburg, said she had no problems with the Senate panel’s changes.

One change would make sure the legislation applies to a teen who takes a sexually explicit photo of himself or herself and distributes it via a cell phone.

Under current law, teens caught sexting could be charged as felony sex offenders and, if convicted, would have to be registered on the state database.

According to HB 143, a teen charged with sexting would be punished in the juvenile justice system, where a judge could issue a $100 fine for first-time offenders, order community service and work with the child’s parents.

Subsequent offenses would be prosecuted under existing laws, which could include felony child pornography laws.

King said many teens do not understand that sending nude or explicit photos is a crime. Her bill, she said, gives victims a reasonable way to address the crime without permanently damaging a child’s future.

A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center showed that 4 percent of teens under 18 had sent nude or nearly nude images to someone else. About 15 percent said they had received such images of someone they know via cell phones.

The Senate committee considered another bill Thursday that would prohibit text messaging while driving but postponed a vote until its financial costs could be determined. A similar measure already has passed the House.