CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Right now a teenager can send another teen a nude picture, post the picture on the Internet or print copies and put them in lockers at school and it's not a crime
That's a problem, and one Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants says is getting worse.
Plants hopes legislation to be proposed today in the state House and Senate will provide ramifications if, for example, a boyfriend and girlfriend exchange inappropriate pictures and then get in a fight.
"Well then there's a breakup, and all of a sudden those inappropriate pictures are on Facebook or they're being passed around the schools," Plants said Friday in a phone interview.
"It's a new form of bullying in the tech age," he continued.
The legal system lets Plants prosecute adults who send nude pictures to minors. But it lacks teeth when it comes to photographs of minors exchanged between minors, he said. It can fall under harassment, he said, but he wants clearer standards and consequences for the growing problem.
If the measures become law, "sexting" - the act of sending sexually explicit photographs through digital communication - between minors could be a misdemeanor or felony, Plants said. Each situation would be taken on a case-by-case basis, and would be handled in juvenile court, he said.
It's up to a juvenile court judge to decide punishment in those cases, but Plants' law could send offenders to a correctional facility for up to one year.
The intent is not to send children to jail, Plants said. Because it would be handled in juvenile court, the records would be sealed and would not follow a person for the rest of his or her life. But there needs to be some sort of legal deterrent for the activity, Plants said.
"Right now there's no consequences for putting these images up on the Internet, or sending them to all of their friends," Plants said. "That blatant activity will stop."
Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, is scheduled to introduce a bill today that would address Plants' concerns. On Friday, Palumbo said he knows local prosecutors say sexting is a problem, and there's a "hole in the law right now."