SC lawmakers consider anti-sexting bill

Published: Feb. 29, 2012 at 10:20 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 30, 2012 at 9:20 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP/WBTV) — Lawmakers gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that would ban South Carolina teens from sending sexually explicit text messages.

The anti-sexting bill that was passed by a House Judiciary subcommittee would make it illegal for juveniles ages 12 through 17 to knowingly transmit sexually explicit photos. It would be a $100 fine for offenders.

"I think we have to start somewhere," said Fort Mill mother Angel Polito. She's concerned about the possibility of those images going viral and humiliating a child. Polito has five children of her own, and says she's heard her children talk about cases of sexting.

"I still think it goes back to privacy," said another mom, Randi Marie Whittaker. Her daughter is 16-years-old. Whittaker says parents need to have more of an active role in preventing sexting, not the government.

The subcommittee offered little debate on the bill, which was originally introduced by Rep. Joan Brady last year. The Columbia Republican said she hopes the bill will lessen the penalty, but still teach responsibility.

Currently, a minor could be prosecuted for a felony for disseminating sexually explicit photos.

"It does not make criminals out of children who make stupid mistakes," Brady said. "We're talking about protecting young people. ... I don't think right now they realize what they're getting themselves into."

The subcommittee approved changes to the bill that would place the offenses before a family court judge, who Brady said would have more discretion than one in a circuit court.

Brady also said she hoped the bill would educate parents and help teens understand the negative emotional repercussions of messages that can sometimes constitute cyber bullying if they're forwarded along to other people.

An education component has been removed from the bill, but Brady said lawmakers were working with telecommunications companies and the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault on programs that would provide counseling for parents whose children have been arrested.