TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz that would require school districts to include instruction on the consequences of distributing sexually explicit images through electronic means as part of New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education was approved by the Senate Education Committee today.
“Children need to understand the gravity and long-term repercussions of the practice known as ‘sexting,’” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “This bill would help reinforce information they need to protect themselves with instruction given in the safety of the school setting where they can be educated as a group of peers.”
The bill, S-2092, requires a board of education to teach the social, emotional and legal consequences of the teenage practice of “sexting,” sending a sexually explicit text message. The instruction would occur once during the middle school grades in an appropriate place in the curriculum as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education to provide school districts with age-appropriate sample learning activities and resources designed to implement this requirement.
This nationwide problem that has perplexed parents, school administrators, and law enforcement officials was recently studied by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Results found that 19% of teens aged 13 to 19 had sent a sexually-suggestive picture or video of themselves to someone via email, cell phone, or through another form of online interaction, while 31% had received a nude or semi-nude picture from someone else.
By law, a sexual image of any person under the age of 18 is child pornography. Prosecutors in several states have charged teenagers who have engaged in this behavior with criminal offenses, including distribution of child pornography. Pursuant to a law which became effective in April, 2012, the New Jersey Legislature provided for a diversionary program for juveniles who are criminally charged for sexting or posting sexual images and permits them to participate in a remedial education or counseling program as an alternative to criminal prosecution.
Beyond the legal consequences of this behavior, however, sexting also has significant non-legal consequences including, the effect on relationships, loss of educational and employment opportunities, and being barred or removed from school programs and extracurricular activities. Because of the unique characteristics of cyberspace and the Internet, a single sext has the potential to cause long-term and possibly unforeseen consequences, and result in severe embarrassment, ridicule, cyber-bullying, and lasting mental and emotional trauma.
“It is imperative that students understand at a young age the severity of sending sexually explicit text messages and the impact that these actions have on the students themselves, their victims, and the community,” said Senator Ruiz. “This legislation would ensure that they receive effective instruction on how and why to refrain from this very dangerous behavior.”
With today’s 5-0 vote, the bill advances to the full Senate for further consideration.