FORT SMITH, Ark. — In recent weeks, House Bill 1028 was pre-filed with the Arkansas State Legislature with the goal to go before the Judiciary Committee, House and Senate Floors to change the Arkansas Code using the phrasing 'child pornography' to 'possession or use of child sexual abuse material' or CSAM.
The lawmaker at the heart of the change is District 24 Representative Charlene Fite.
"I want every child to feel that his or her life matters," said Rep. Fite. "If a child has been videoed, in any kind of sexual portrayal - a crime has been committed against that child - and the visual portrayal is evidence of that crime."
While viewing, possessing, sharing, and creating child pornography is a federal crime, changing Arkansas Code in 15 sections where the term 'child pornography' is located to 'possession or use of child sexual abuse material' aligns Arkansas with other states to do so and helps protect those most vulnerable.
The term 'pornography' implies there has been an exchange of consent. When children are involved, there is no consent to what is shared and viewed. The change in terminology aims to help solidify that in the eyes of the law.
"I hope that people will not see this as a victimless crime," says Rep. Fite. "There's certainly a victim, that child is a victim, and a crime has been perpetrated against that child that will impact that child for the rest of his or her life."
Rep. Fite worked with the Morgan Nick Foundation for the past several months to bring House Bill 1028 to life.
Morgan Nick Foundation CEO, Colleen Nick, believes the change is vital to ensuring the future safety of all Arkansas children.
"Maybe we can't save everybody, but we can sure save kids who wouldn't have been saved before," says Nick.
Outside of making the change at the state capital, Nick says educating kids on the topic of what is sexual abuse should not be considered taboo— it should be considered necessary.
"It's incredibly important not to just educate Arkansans as a whole, but to educate children so that they can proactively fight for themselves," said Nick. "You can't just talk about a problem without giving solutions and answers. That's what we're doing—giving kids solutions to this problem if it's happening to them, or someone that they know."
Through education, the hope is that children will learn that what they experience may not be normal, and educating them can be the foundation needed for help.
Nick says we all need to "understand that this is a violent crime against a child. It's not just pictures or videos of a violent crime."
Rep. Fite believes House Bill 1028 will not be met with much—if any—objection and should become law by early 2023. Her hope is that "it should make it easier to prosecute, easier to find these horrible people who commit these crimes against children and prosecute them."
Nick agrees, saying, "as long as these materials exist, these crime scene photos—basically taken from a crime being committed against a child—we need to be able to bring that to court, and we need to stop the people who are committing the crimes."
Rep. Fite suggests that if you are concerned about any material you see that could be construed as CSAM, the best thing to do is to air on the side of caution and notify your local law enforcement agency.
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