New sexting law gives options to Colorado law enforcement
GYPSUM — Colorado lawmakers wanted to give law enforcement some middle ground about sexting, somewhere between felonies-or-bust and a slap on the wrist.
It looks like they hit their target, said Tad Degen, a school resource officer with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
Colorado’s new sexting law took effect in January, giving law enforcement a menu of enforcement options.
“The former law made everything a felony, either possession or distribution of child pornography,” Degen said.
Under the old law state law, anyone who had an image on their phone of a nude person younger than 18 could have been charged with felony child exploitation. That felony meant that a sexting teen could also be forced to register as a sex offender. Sex offenders cannot apply for federal financial aid for college.
Under the old law, as soon as someone hit the send button they were guilty of distribution of child pornography, a felony. The new law provides a menu of options that do not force everyone to go straight to the felony option.
“In this case, options are good,” Degen said.
WHAT IS SEXTING?
Sexting refers to sending sexually explicit messages, such as a nude photograph or video of yourself or someone else, through electronic means — usually a smartphone. Many times it’s a consensual exchange between two people.
Before the new law, if a school resource officer such as Degen or Megan Heil at Battle Mountain High School became aware of a teen couple sending nude photographs to one another — even if the exchange was consensual — that officer had to report the crime as sexual exploitation of a child.
“Under the old law, the child could face a serious felony prosecution, although no prosecutor in Colorado pursued these serious charges unless the offender committed something very aggravated,” District Attorney Bruce Brown said. “The act clearly is aimed at recognizing that sexting among juveniles is not particularly aberrant behavior and that the focus of the law should be to minimize possible delinquent consequences to the child.”
The new law separates sexting behavior into categories. For example, if two teens are caught sending consensual photographs of themselves to each other, then they are charged with a civil infraction — no jail time.
Penalties get tougher from there. If a kid sends nude photos of other teens without their permission, then the sender could face a class two misdemeanor — probation and fines.
In most cases in the 5th Judicial District, Brown said the child will never see a judge and instead will participate in a juvenile diversion program that emphasizes educating the child about the possible harm to him/herself and others by transmitting private images.
“The bill was a compromise and continued to recognize that sexting among children/teens should not be encouraged. Some so-called experts actually believe that the behavior should be encouraged, which is crazy thinking,” Brown said.
Brown added that adults who transmit photos of children still face prosecution for serious felonies.
NOT A BIG PROBLEM LOCALLY
It’s not much of a problem in the schools Degen works with around Gypsum … at least not yet.
“About two cases per year come to our attention in this end of the valley. We’ve had one so far this school year,” Degen said. “It’s very low on the hierarchy.”
Most school resource officers are happy to have a law that means business when it needs to but also offers options.
“It has some legal teeth but doesn’t have to ruin their lives,” Degen said.
Teen sexting became an issue in 2015 in Canon City, when more than 100 high school students were found with explicit images of other teens.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.