Children who create and send sexually explicit messages of themselves electronically will be breaking the law in Rhode Island, after a new Bill was signed this week.
The practice of “sexting” has become a problem on both sides of the Atlantic with MPs and school leaders in the UK hearing about the extent of the problem earlier this year.
Following the signing of the law on Tuesday by Rhode Island’s Governor, its Attorney General cautioned parents about cyberspace’s potential dangers.
Under the new measure, anyone below the age of 18 who creates and sends a sexually inappropriate image of themselves can be charged with a “status” offence.
Such offences are acts which are only considered criminal when committed by a young person.
Even tougher penalties can be handed out to those who possess or forward sexually explicit images of another young person.
Such an action can be prosecuted under the state’s child pornography laws and if convicted the person may have to register as a sex offender.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said without proper guidance, technologies such as text messaging, social network sites and digital cameras, “can be dangerous to a child’s physical and psychological well-being”.
He added: “Talking to children early and often will help to protect them from the dangers that can lurk in cyberspace.”
And the Attorney General continued that parents should also discuss their expectations for their children’s behaviour, and “discuss the consequences” for failing to meet those expectations.
In March, research presented at the Westminster Education Forum showed four in ten children between the ages of 11 and 16 are aware of sexting taking place at their school.
Siobhan Freegard, from the parenting website Netmums, said: “In many cases young girls are persuaded to pose for these pictures by their boyfriends. They don’t appreciate what the consequences are.”