PROVIDENCE – While possession and trafficking in sexually explicit images of children – kiddie porn or child pornography – is illegal, it is not against the law in Rhode Island if an adult sends or gives sexually explicit images of adults to a child.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is moving to close what he calls “a gaping hole in the state’s Internet safety and child protection laws.
Kilmartin, along with Newport Rep. Peter Martin and Cranston Sen. Frank Lombardi, intends to file legislation making it a felony to electronically disseminate sexually explicit images to minors, including photos and videos, as well as live sex acts transmitted via webcam.
“Sending sexually explicit material to a child online is no different than approaching a child at a playground,” Kilmartin said. “Make no mistake, people who engage in this type of deviant behavior are child predators, hiding behind their computer screens searching for victims, and they need to be treated as such.
“The Internet has created new opportunities for predators to victimize children, and we need the right tools to prosecute effectively. It is imperative that our laws are updated to reflect changing technology — just as we protect children on our streets, we must also ensure their safety online,” he added.
Kilmartin has filed similar legislation for the past three years as one part of an omnibus Internet safety legislation package, but it has never passed in the General Assembly. The act of sending sexually explicit images and video to children is, among other things, a way for predators to “groom” the children to build a relationship that can lead to exploitation and further victimization.
“I was shocked to learn that this loophole exists in current law. I will work closely with Attorney General Kilmartin and do all I can legislatively to ensure that this problem is addressed and corrected,” Lombardi added. “I know that one of the most important things for all of us who are parents is to keep our children safe, and closing this loophole in the Internet and child protection laws is another important way to safeguard our children from this kind of horrible predatory activity.”
In a written statement, Martin said, “It is unfortunate that we need laws such as this, and unfortunate that there are individuals in our society involved in this kind of repugnant activity. The reality is, this stuff goes on and we need to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep up with advances in techno-crimes and to find and prosecute the people who perpetrate them.”
The legislation has the support of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association. Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais, who serves as president of that association, said, “I fully support this measure by Attorney General Kilmartin. Never before have pedophiles had the opportunity to communicate so freely and directly with each other as they do online.
“One of the attractions of the Internet is the anonymity of the user, and this is why it can be so dangerous,” Desmarais explained. “A child doesn’t always know with whom he or she is interacting. Children may think they know, but unless it’s a school friend or a relative, they really can’t be sure. Often we think of pedophiles as having access to children out on the playground and other places, but because of the Internet children can actually be interacting with adults who pretend to be children.”
Kilmartin's legislation would amend current law to make it a felony to knowingly transmit electronically indecent material to minors. Those in violation would be guilty of a felony and subject to up to five years in jail, a maximum fine of $5,000, or both. In addition, persons found guilty would be subject to sex offender registration.
Steven Brown, executive director of the R.I. ACLU, said his organization has had concerns about how broadly the legislation has been written in past years. Under the previous language, he said, a parent taking a picture of a baby and sending it to a teenaged son or daughter could be unwittingly violating the law.
He said the wording of the law could probably be fine-tuned to make it acceptable.
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