New Jersey Makes Headway in Child Protection Legislation

Many parents and state lawmakers have grappled with the sexting epidemic among teenagers around the country. "Sexting" is the term used to refer to the sending of illicit images through text-messaging service or email. Many times, a young person will send an image to one recipient, from whom it can be disseminated to a very large audience. If that young person is a minor, then the simple act of sending a text message can be considered producing and distributing child pornography, and therefore a sex-offense that requires registration and carries life-long consequences, as well as possible jail time.

States are taking different tacks when approaching this increasingly serious problem. For instance, in Ohio a bill has been introduced into the state legislature that would carry criminal charges for teens caught sexting. Other states, including New Jersey, are heading in a different direction that is more about education than punishment. They believe that sexting teens are unaware of the likely consequences of their actions, and through education programs are unlikely to commit a similar offense again. Consequently, anyone convicted of a first offence under the new laws, may avoid jail time, criminal charges, and a sex-offender registration requirement through their adult lives, through education programs and counseling.

Although no one wants to appear lenient to deal swiftly with the serious issue of child pornography, a less severe option is likely a better course of action, since proper education and monitoring by parents would possibly prevent many of these crimes, not to mention the majority of teenagers are not "intending" to create and disseminate child pornography.

Additionally, SCP's Mark Lunsford and Stacie Rumenap will travel to New Jersey in early March to brief members of "Team Joan" on statewide efforts to pass sentencing requirements for child sex offenders in New Jersey.

Led by Rosemarie D'Alessandro, Team Joan is a group of concerned parents fighting for tougher child sex offender laws. They were instrumental in passing "Joan's Law" in 2004, which makes life in prison without parole the minimum penalty for predators who molest and murder a child. The law is named for Joan D'Alessandro, Rosemarie's seven-year-old daughter who was raped and murdered in 1973 by a high school science teacher to whom she was delivering Girl Scout cookies.

Now, Team Joan and "Team Jessica" are coming together to pass "Jessica's Law" in New Jersey, a bill that seeks to increase sentences for sex offenders to 25 years to life and includes prison time for persons who harbor them.

The bill can be found here.

You can offer your support for Jessica's Law by contacting Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and Senator Tom Kean, the bill's sponsors. Call Munoz at (908) 918-0414 and Kean at (908) 232-3673 and thank them for spearheading the effort to keep New Jersey's children safe from child predators.

And don't forget to SIGN OUR PETITION to show your support for tougher sentences for convicted child sex offenders.