(Host) The Chittenden County State’s Attorney says he doesn’t want lawmakers to tie the hands of prosecutors in cases where minors use cell phones to send sexually explicit images – often of themselves.
New legislation in Vermont would legalize the consensual exchange of graphic images between two people if they’re between the ages of 13 and 18.
The practice is called ‘sexting’. It would still be illegal if it’s not consensual, or for anyone outside of that age group.
Chittenden County State’s attorney T.J. Donovan says he supports the intent of the bill, which is to avoid criminalizing teenagers, but he feels it’s dangerous to create a blanket exemption for all people of a certain age.
(Donovan) "Every case is different and the prosecutors in this state who are the conscience of their communities know the facts of this case better than anybody and it’s the prosecutorial discretion which has to remain intact and by making exceptions for a certain class of people you’re taking away that discretion."
(Host) Donovan says he’d rather see an emphasis put on educating teenagers about the dangers and the possible consequences of exchanging graphic or sexually explicit images of themselves.
(Donovan) "They will rue the day, whether it be 5 years or 10 years down the line where these images could come back and haunt them. I think kids need to be educated that there are some consequences for future employment opportunities and educational opportunities down the line and that’s where I want to see the focus: on education and prevention."
(Host) Donovan says one punitive option for teenagers who engage in sexting might be court diversion or another form of alternative justice.
If the legislature approves the bill, Vermont would be one of the first states in the nation to offer such legal protections.