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Rhode Island Sexting Laws

Passed in 2011, Rhode Island sexting laws states that teens who create and transmit sexually explicit images of themselves may face charges in family court. Consequently, teens adjudicated for sexting cannot face prosecution under the state’s child pornography laws. The rule does not apply to those who possess or disseminate explicit images of another.

Quick take:

  • Rhode Island sexting laws only protect teens who disseminate photos of themselves from criminal prosecution.
  • Teens adjudicated in the juvenile system or family court do not have to register as sex offenders.
  • Teens who disseminate indecent photos of others may face prosecution under the state’s child pornography laws.
  • Under the state revenge porn law, sextortion is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
  • Taking reasonable steps to report the image or video to law enforcement or to destroy the media, and possessing less than three images of child pornography are affirmative defenses that only apply if the accused did not solicit the conduct.

Rhode Island sexting laws summary

Section 1 chapter 11-9-14. “Minor Electronically Disseminating Indecent Material to Another Person” is Rhode Island’s sexting law. Under the statute, a child or minor refers to anyone below 18.  And a telecommunication device refers to all devices capable of sending and receiving media.

The statute prohibits sexting or the exchange of sexually explicit content amongst teens. Sexually explicit content or conduct refers to media depicting acts, including intercourse, sodomy, masturbation, and lascivious exhibition of the genitals, pubic area, or the breasts. What that means is, it is unlawful for teens to create nude selfies.

Any violation of the statute involving a teen creating and disseminating pictures or photos of himself or herself is a Status Offence, meaning, the accused may face trial in family court. Section D of the statute states that “any teen/minor passed on judicially under this subsection is not subject to sex offender registration.

What is the punishment for sexting in family court?

Rhode Island’s juvenile system aims to rehabilitate teens, not punish them. consequently, the court uses a wide range of options when handling juvenile offenders, including counseling, restitution, probation, and other appropriate rehabilitative measures.

What happens if a teen disseminates photos of another?

In this scenario, the law does not prevent prosecutors from pursuing child pornography charges or petitioning the court for trial in adult court. Furthermore, depending on facts presented and the age of the accused, prosecutors may also pursue solicitation of a minor and other felony charges listed below.

There is also the issue of certification that allows the court to sentence a teen beyond 19 if there is insufficient time to accomplish rehabilitation.

Note that any teen or adult prosecuted under Rhode island’s child pornography laws must register as a sex offender upon conviction.

Section 11-9-14: what to remember

  • Computer device refers to both analog and digital devices.
  • Teens tried under the statute or ones processed through the juvenile system do not have to register as sex offenders.
  • The statute only applies to teens who possess or disseminate photos of themselves.
  • If the person depicted in the photo or video is another teen or if there are other teens in the photo, prosecutors may pursue child pornography charges.
  • Once convicted of child pornography-related charges the accused must register as a sex offender.

When does sexting become child pornography in Rhode Island?

As mentioned, if a teen disseminates explicit photos depicting another teen, the action constitutes child pornography possession and dissemination in Rhode Island.

Under 11-9-1. 3 “Child pornography Prohibited,” it is unlawful for anyone to knowingly produce, disseminate, reproduce, or possess child pornography. The statute defines child pornography as quote:

“Any visual depiction, including films, photographs, videos, pictures, or computer-generated images or pictures, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical or other, means, of sexually explicit conduct where:”

  • There is the use of a child engaging in sexually explicit conduct.
  • Or, quote “such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to display an identifiable minor engaging in explicit conduct.”

Note that the definition applies to both digital and computer-generated images. Consequently, deep fakes and photoshop images depicting a child engaged in unlawful conduct are violations of the statute.

That said.

 Section D of the statute provides the following affirmative defenses:

  • The accused took reasonable steps to destroy the images or reported the incident to law enforcement.
  • The accused possessed less than three images of child pornography.
  • Persons depicted in the photos or images were 18 at the time of production.

Rhode Island sexting laws and indecent solicitation of a child

Under section 11-37.8 “indecent solicitation,” to solicit means to authorize, command, urge, incite, request, advice, or in any other way encourage a minor to perform a sexual act. Worth mentioning -is section B- of the statute that reads in part “but not limited to, in person, over the phone, in writing, by computer, through the Internet, or by advertisement of any kind.

Under the statute, it is unlawful to solicit sexual conduct or an act of prostitution from a child or a person believed to be a child. “A person believed to be a child” may be an undercover police officer.

Rhode Island sexting laws and enticement of children

Under chapter 11 section 26-1.5 “Enticement of Children,” it is a felony, to attempt to, or to persuade a minor, under 16, be it by words or actions, to leave his or her home, enter a vehicle or a secluded area with the intent to engage in a felonious act.

Translated, what that means is, using a smartphone or other device to entice a child, through words or text, to travel or enter a building/ secluded area is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and or a fine of up to $5000. Note that enticement and soliciting a child for sexual conduct are violations of both state and federal laws.

The punishment escalates if the accused takes a significant step towards meeting the child. For example, if the accused crosses state or international lines to meet a child to participate in unlawful conduct. The accused may face both state and federal prosecution.

Under federal law, soliciting, persuading, or enticing/ luring a minor are felony charges that carry sentences ranging from ten years to life in a federal correctional facility.

Juvenile or adult court?

Teens accused of disseminating photos of themselves will face trial in family court. On the other hand, a teen who shares photos of another, say a boyfriend disseminates, or displays photos of his girlfriend to friends, or publishes the images on social media -may face trial in adult court for possession and distribution of child pornography.

Note that in Rhode Island, any child above 16 who has two prior delinquent adjudications may face prosecution in criminal court, according to R.I Gen. Laws Ann 14-1-7.2.

Once transferred to criminal or adult court, the teen will face adult punishment, including mandatory registration as a sex offender upon conviction for child porn possession or distribution.

Remember, under state law, child porn possession is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $5000 fine. Conspiring to, or attempting to violate the state’s child pornography laws is also a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5000 fine.

Rhode Island sexting laws and Electronically Disseminating Indecent Material to Minors Prohibited

section 11-9-15 “electronically disseminating indecent materials to minors,” states that it is unlawful to use any electronic device to send, transmit, or disseminate indecent depictions to a child. Meaning, an adult sending nudes or pornography to a minor is an unlawful act. Section D of the statute reads, quote:

“No person shall be charged under this section if the minor to whom the indecent visual depiction was transmitted was fifteen (15) years of age or older and the person transmitting the indecent visual depiction was not more than four (4) years older than the minor.”

Under the statute, transmitting indecent images to a minor is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5000 fine. Furthermore, upon conviction, the accused must register as a sex offender.

11-9-5: What to remember

  • The law prohibits the live transmission of indecent media involving a child.
  • Electronic device refers to all devices capable of sending or receiving media under the statute.
  • Anyone found guilty of disseminating indecent material to a minor must register as a sex offender.

Rhode Island sexting laws and Exploitation for commercial or immoral purposes

Under chapter 11-9-1, employing, using, or exhibiting a minor for lewd/indecent acts or prostitution is a felony punishable by up to twenty years in prison and a fine of up to $20000.

Rhode Island sexting laws and revenge porn

Section 11-64-3 Unauthorized dissemination of indecent material” is Rhode island’s revenge porn law. Under the statute, an individual is guilty of unlawful dissemination if the individual sells, publishes, or disseminates indecent images depicting an individual above 18 without consent. “Identifiable” means the person depicted is identifiable by any person from the information offered in connection with the image, or from the visuals -that is- tattoos, face, marks, and other identifiable aspects of the victim.

If the victim is below 18, the accused is guilty of child pornography possession and distribution.

  • The statute does not apply if the image or media involves voluntary exposure of genitals in a commercial or public setting (anywhere where a reasonable expectation of privacy does not exist).
  • The first violation of this statute is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1000 fine and imprisonment for not more than one year.
  • Any subsequent violations escalate the crime into a felony punishable by up to three years in prison and a $3000 fine.
  • Sextortion/ offenders who threaten the victim or demand payment are guilty of felonies (separate) punishable by up to five years in prison.
  • Upon conviction, the accused does not have to register as a sex offender.

References

Other Rhode Island Laws

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