SANTA FE, N.M. (KFDA) - Sexting - sending or receiving sexually explicit messages - is common among today's teenagers. But a new state law may be sending New Mexico teens the wrong message.
Recently, Gov. Susana Martinez signed a proposal allowing adolescents between 14 and 18-years-old to send naked photographs to each other without legal repercussion, such as child pornography charges, prison sentences, and a record of criminal activity. Martinez signed the bill because she felt teens shouldn't be punished for the rest of their lives, especially if the texts are consensual.
The new law has already sparked controversy among parents, lawyers, government officials, and counselors.
Counselor Kaye Renshaw feels that teens are choosing to send these photographs when asked because they want to fit in among their peers.
"Teens in that age are very in tune with their peer group, that's there point of reference and they also have a strong need to be liked and to please their peers they succumb to peer pressure with great ease," Renshaw said. "Whatever is going on in that group is going to go on in a fad almost in a wave before something else takes over."
Attorney General Hector Balderas and some of his employees who didn't support the bill have already voiced their disapproval and and are asking for a change.
But supporters of the bill believe teenagers don't know or understand the legal consequences associated with sexting. Those against it say it's giving them the wrong message.
"I have been investigating internet crimes against children for over 13 years and I've been in this state for 10 years, I know of no incident where we have ever prosecuted a teenager for taking selfies and sending them out," said Lois Kinch, an agent for Internet Crimes Against Children Unit and Task Force. "We do not like the message that this portion the statute portrays that it's morally acceptable for children to take these types of pictures. These are sexually graphic pictures."
Renshaw agrees with the law, and feels taking legal actions against teens is not the way to handle these situations.
"I'm not in favor of prosecuting kids who make these stupid moves, we need some first line interventions of counseling and support," Renshaw said. "We're doing a good deal of that already, because not every scenario like this is a prosecutable scenario. We're seeing families and kids in their office on a daily basis who are in crisis because parents have found out somebody is sending something."
However, Renshaw says it may put added pressure on teens.
"One of the concerns that I have is it going to increase the pressure, it's so much easier if you're trying to convince somebody to send you something to say 'It's legal, come on' and really turn up the pressure on the more vulnerable," she said.
The new law also makes it even harder for law enforcement to warn parents that their children might be in danger.
"Because it is legal, in order for me to locate this child and talk to their parents I need to have probable cause to get a subpoena (or at least reasonable suspicion) to further my investigation, but if it's not a crime I can't go to the Grand Jury and ask for a subpoena to go and tell the parents 'Hey look, this is what your little kiddo is doing with their device that you provided to them," Kinch said.
Reputation is also a concern, Kinch said. Once an image is sent, the possibility of it being uploaded and shared on the internet is a realistic. And it may still be there when the teen grows into a young adult.
"We need to be able to protect them from some of the decisions that inevitably that they're going to make, historically they've made," Kinch said.
Renshaw still encourages parents to openly talk to their children about the dangers of sexting and how it can affect them later in life.