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Federal Child Pornography Law Costing States Real Money

The aim of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 is to protect children by forcing sex offenders to register, and making the sex offender registry publicly available. In the case of juvenile sexting, though, the “victim” and the “perpetrator” can be the same person. Registering teens as sex offenders and subjecting them to public shame further victimizes these kids.

This result is not something that anyone wants. But, there is money involved. So the decision to protect teens from harsh penalties for sex offenses becomes more difficult in cash strapped states.

States that do not comply with the federal law suffer a 10% loss of law enforcement grant money from the federal government. How much money is that?

Similarly, Florida receives almost $2 million for complying with the federal law.

Compliance comes at a cost though. The federal law requires states that wish to receive grant money to register juveniles as sex offenders for life, if they have committed an aggravated sex offense. This requirement includes registering children as young as 14.

Considering the diminished capacity of minors, the consequences of being registered as a sex offender, and the possibility of rehabilitation, the federal law is extreme.

To date, only four states have complied with the federal law: Florida, Ohio, Delaware, and South Dakota.

This February, South Dakota took a proactive approach that might allow them to keep the federal grant money without having to register teens for sexting. The legislature there considered a bill that distinguishes aggravated sexting from a lesser offense, and prohibits the state from registering minors as sex offenders “solely for committing the offense of juvenile sexting or aggravated juvenile sexting.”

Whether South Dakota’s approach would allow it to remain in compliance with the federal law is yet to be seen. If it works, that legislation might be adopted by other states, as they weigh concerns about funding against the futures of teens.

Ken LaMance

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