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Megan's Law in the Digital Age

May 24, 2013 | Posted In Family Law - Child Abuse, Megan's Law

Nearly twenty years after the tragic death of her young daughter, Maureen Kanka is again working with lawmakers to protect children from sexual abuse. After 7-year-old Megan Kanka was sexually assaulted and murdered by a neighbor in 1994, Maureen led a public campaign to address the need for laws to protect children from sex offenders. One month later, with the support of New Jersey family lawyers and legislators, Kanka introduced Megan's Law in honor of her daughter.

Across the United States, Megan's Law requires law enforcement officials to make information regarding registered sex offenders available to the public. The level of information provided is determined at the individual state level, but commonly, authorities provide the offender's name, picture, address, incarceration date, and nature of criminal activity. Information is published online or in print. Megan's Law also includes a federal mandate requiring those convicted of sex crimes to notify local police and authorities about any change of address or employment, either for a period of time after jail, or permanently.

But experts note that the task of protecting children from sexual predators is growing increasingly more difficult in the digital age. Children and young adults have easy access to the internet and technology, and are in constant communication, using text messages, social media, and picture-sharing programs like SnapChat and Instagram. Not only is there the ever-present danger of predators lurking on the internet, searching information provided publically on Facebook and Twitter to find and exploit young children, but now, New Jersey family attorneys say, young people have more avenues to put themselves in danger—especially as the practice of "sexting" grows in popularity.

Sexting—the sharing of sexually explicit images via text message or any of a number of smart phone apps designed to share photos—is a widespread trend among teens and young adults. But New Jersey family attorneys say that, according to sex offense and pornography laws, taking and sending explicit images of minors is considered the distribution of child pornography. Anyone caught with these images saved on a cell phone or computer can be legally charged with possession of child pornography, and required, under Megan's Law, to register as a sex offender.

Kanka is seeking to protect minors in this situation, stating that the law's purpose is to protect children, not punish them. She has proposed changes to drop the requirement. Registering as a sex offender is a life-long label, and children caught sexting may not fully understand the long-term ramifications of their actions. Kanka and others who support the change have emphasized that offenders at a young age have a chance of rehabilitation, without their youthful crimes hanging over their heads. Family lawyers in New Jersey say that these changes are pending approval from lawmakers, but if enacted, could provide avenues for young people to learn from their mistakes.

Children's safety is a number one priority at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA. The experienced family attorneys represent anyone who is facing serious repercussions for juvenile crimes such as sexting.

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