Citing a gaping hole in the state's Internet safety and child protection laws, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, along with Representative Peter Martin (D – District 75, Newport) and Senator Frank Lombardi (D – Distrist 26, Cranston), will 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. The legislation has the support of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association.
While Rhode Island has strict child pornography and human trafficking laws, the law does not address adults sending lewd and sexually explicit photos and videos to children. Attorney General Kilmartin has filed similar legislation for the past three years as one part of his Internet Safety legislation package.
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.
"Sending sexually explicit material to a child online is no different than approaching a child at a playground. 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," said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. "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."
"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," said Representative Peter. Martin. "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. I am happy to work with the Attorney General's office on this legislation, to further protect our children from predators."
"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," said Senator Frank S. Lombardi. "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."
"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," added Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais, who serves as president of the Rhode Island Police Chief's Association. "One of the attractions of the Internet is the anonymity of the user, and this is why it can be so dangerous. 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.