New Mexico passes law making it legal for teenagers to sext each other

Proposal is part of wider package of reforms that make penalities for adults who distribute child abuse images much tougher

New Mexico has passed a law which means teenagers can legally send each explicit “sexts” with each other without falling foul of the state’s child sex abuse images laws. 

On Friday, Republican Governor Susana Martinez signed into law a proposal which allows children aged 14 to 18 to engage in consensual sexting without facing charges for making and distributing child sex abuse images if caught. 

Democratic State Senator George Muñoz told the Guardian: “Kids will be kids, and they’re going to make mistakes. 

“You can’t punish them for the rest of their lifetime with a charge of child pornography … if they’re consensually sending photos back and forth.”

The law specifies that sexting between minors is only legal if they “knowingly and voluntarily” exchanged images and there is no evidence of coercion.

The amendment was part of a wider piece of legislation passed to bring in harsher penalties for adults who make and distribute child abuse images. 

The new law increases the penalty for child pornography possession from 18 months to 10 years and the penalty for distributing it from 3 years to 11 years. 

Making child pornography will now carry a maximum jail term 12 years - up from nine years. 

Governor Martinez said she signed the bill because of the harsher penalties and did not agree with the sexting amendment. 

She said:  “I believe this bill is an important step forward in protecting our children from exploitation. As a former prosecutor who specialized in child abuse and sexual abuse cases, I know how important it is that we protect our kids from these abhorrent criminals.

“I don’t support the so-called ‘sexting’ amendment, as I believe the reasoning behind it is misinformed and it was not carefully considered”.

She will ask the state senate to work on it during the next legislative assembly, she added. 

Before the law was passed teenagers could face long jail terms as in child abuse cases prosecutors can file a charge against for each image they send. 

As teenagers can send hundreds of images very quickly they were at risk of lengthy jail sentences. 

Rikki-Lee Chavez, legislative coordinator for the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association,  said teenagers “could be facing huge amounts of time for a decision that is common practice for kids now”. 

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