Prosecutors will be able to punish kids who send explicit photos to each other without resorting to putting them on the sex offender registry, under a bill Attorney General Greg Abbott lauded in a press release today.

The bill, which Gov. Rick Perry signed Friday, establishes new regulations to prohibit sexually explicit images in text messages from being exchanged between minors.

SB 407, authored by State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, is meant to prevent and hold minors responsible for transmitting sexually explicit messages by establishing educational programs for violators.

“Sexting” between minors has historically been categorized as pornography, which means violators face felony convictions and possible registration for life in the Texas Sex Offender Registration program. Previously, anyone found sending or receiving sexts would be viewed by the law as possessing or trafficking pornography. The new law will grant exemption from punishment for those who receive a sext and either report or destroy it within 48 hours.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Abbott said the bill allows prosecutors to “pursue less draconian criminal charges against minors."

“The beauty of this is we’ve gotten ahead of the problem” Watson said. "Now we have a law that’s up-to-date and that’s not going to brand a kid as a sex offender into perpetuity for making a dumb mistake.”

Watson said sexting is a growing problem, and it became necessary for laws to reflect new technology and habits of teens. A 2008 study from the Cyberbullying Research Center estimated that 19 percent of teens had sent a sexually-suggestive electronic picture or video of themselves to someone, and 31 percent had received a nude or semi-nude picture from someone else. 

Effective September 1, individuals found sexting could be charged with a misdemeanor and required to enroll in an educational program about sexting’s criminal, emotional and psychological damages, including cyberbullying.

The educational programs will be developed by the Texas School Safety Center in consultation with the Texas Attorney General’s office to educate minors about sexually explicit texting. The Texas School Safety Center will also develop a curriculum for children about sexting, and local school districts will decide the proper grade and age to distribute the information to students.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

Show 13 comments
Republish This Story

Find out how you can put this story on your website.

Like this story?

Become a member today and support our nonprofit newsroom.