Metro

Legislation introduced to protect children online

Attorney General’s bill re-classifies the sending of explicit online material to minors as a felony

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin announced he had drafted legislation making it a felony to “electronically disseminate sexually explicit images to minors” Dec. 18, according to a General Assembly press release. The bill will likely be introduced into the General Assembly by Kilmartin’s allies.

This piece of legislation is being filed for the fourth year in a row, said Amy Kempe, Kilmartin’s communications director and public information officer. “It is getting more attention now, because in previous years it was a part of larger package of legislation dealing with loopholes in internet safety laws. This year the Attorney General is taking a different approach, by proposing various stand-alone bills instead of one large packet.”

This legislation already has the support of Rep. Peter Martin, D-Newport, and Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, as well as the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, according to the release. Martin and Lombardi, who filed Kilmartin’s internet safety legislation in previous years, will introduce the most recent version of the bill drafted by Kilmartin, Kempe said.

The goal of the bill — which would amend the current felony law to apply to photos, videos and live sex acts performed on webcam — is to apply the same protections from predators online as children receive in more public realms. “Sending sexually explicit material to a child online is no different than approaching a child at a playground,” Kilmartin said in the official press release. “People who engage in this type of deviant behavior are child predators, hiding behind their computer screens, searching for victims, and they need to be treated as such.”

Those who violate the proposed law could be jailed for up to five years and forced to register as sex offenders, with possible fines up to $5,000, according to the release.

“Why it isn’t already a felony is a question,” Kempe said. “The hole in the law was identified several years ago when there were several cases brought to us by police departments.  There is nothing on the books currently that would allow those engaging in these acts to be charged, but they are clearly predators.”

There is no definitive timeline for the bill, said Randy Szyba, the publicist for the General Assembly.

The attorney general is hopeful for the bill’s chances this year, Kempe said. “By separating the pieces out of the larger package, we are hopeful that each of the individual pieces will be able to garner more attention.”

Kilmartin, who lists protecting children from predators as one of his primary goals on his official webpage, said sending such materials to minors can lead to future endangerment. Sending sexually explicit images or messages to minors “is, among other things, a way for predators to ‘groom’ the children, to build a relationship that can lead to exploitation and further victimization,” Kilmartin said, according to the press release.

A similar act was passed in New York in 2007. The legislature amended the penal law to make the  dissemination of indecent materials to minors a class D felony, according to the website of the New York legislature.

But the New York law only applies first-degree penalties when offenders recognize the content of sent material and when the sexually explicit materials are sent in solicitation of a real-life sexual encounter.  The law allows prosecution before a real-life meeting has taken place, according to the New York legislature’s website.

The bill in Rhode Island does not make the same distinction. Rather, its advocates emphasize that it closes an existing loophole in child protection laws due to the Internet, Lombardi said in the press release. “We need to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep up with advances in techno-crimes and to find and prosecute the people who perpetrate them,” Martin said in the press release.

“The Internet has created new opportunities for predators to victimize children, and we need the right tools to prosecute effectively,” Kilmartin said in the press release. “It is imperative that our laws are updated to reflect changing technology.”

Kilmartin has shown an increased interest in Internet crimes over recent months, pitching similar legislation in December that would make it a felony to post “revenge porn,” or explicit photos of a former romantic partner without his or her consent, according to the office of the attorney general’s website.

Elected Attorney General in 2010, Kilmartin will run for reelection in November 2014. Sen. Dawson Hodgson, R-East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett, announced Jan. 14 he will run as a challenger.

2 Comments

  1. Nicholas Rasmussen says:

    These laws don’t “Protect” at all. They just make it worse. Kids (Especially Teens) will do whatever they want online. If they want to send images to each other, They will do it regardless of any law.

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