Sexting, short for sexual texting, is the transmission of explicit sexual images or messages from one person to another, often via a cell phone. In many cases, the pictures are actually of the people sending them. Sexting is a serious concern due to the fact that such images can easily be forwarded to other parties without the original owner being aware of it, and often without their approval. It can also lead to cyberbullying, stalking, and harassment. These subsequent issues are especially prevalent among minors engaged in sexting. 

Is Sexting Illegal?

The act of sexting itself becomes illegal when minors send pictures of themselves or people, regardless if they are minors or adults, send pictures of minors, such as forwarding a picture that a minor sent to them. The sending, receiving, and/or possession of these photos can subject a person to child pornography charges. 

Since sexting is also linked to cases of harassment, stalking, and bullying, additional criminal charges can result from sexting, such as criminal harassment charges and criminal stalking charges. If the sexting is linked to a person’s suicide after the victim’s images were distributed without their consent, the other people involved in the image distribution may be charged for playing a part in the death. In other cases, adults have been charged with child molestation and harassment for sending pictures of themselves to minors.

How Are Sexting Charges Proven?

Sexting charges are often not all that difficult to prove. This is because most electronic transmissions are stored electronically for several weeks or months after they occur. For instance, message sent by e-mail or text are often stored by the data provider even if the person erases them from their own personal computer or phone. This can provide authorities with a way to determine:

  • What types of images were sent
  • Who sent them
  • How long the person possessed the images
  • Whether such information was passed on or forwarded to other parties

A criminal search warrant is usually needed before the police can search for and secure this type of information. However, this type of evidence has often been very helpful in prosecuting persons for possession of child pornography, which can happen if a person receives "sext" messages from a minor.

What Are the Criminal Penalties for Sexting?

Criminal penalties for sexting can be very, very severe. If a minor is involved, the recipient of the text can receive a felony charge and can be sentenced to at least one year in prison. They may also face other consequences such as criminal fines and mandatory registration in a sex offender registry. These penalties are very similar to or identical to those for child pornography charges.

In cases where the person gave their consent to use the pictures, the charges may sometimes be reduced to misdemeanor charges. However, this will all depend on the facts of the case, as well as state laws. For the most part, sexting crimes result in felony charges in the majority of states.

Legislators in some states, such as Vermont and Connecticut, are lobbying to have the crime of sexting reduced to a Class A misdemeanor if the act only involves an exchange of pictures between two consenting minors. Penalties for misdemeanors include smaller criminal fines and up to a year in jail. However, sexting would likely remain a felony if there is no consent of the parties involved.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Sexting Charges?

Sexting charges are very serious and generally require the assistance of a criminal lawyer. It is in your best interests to hire a lawyer if you need help with sexting charges or any other type of criminal charge. Your attorney can provide legal advice and can guide you through the process to ensure that your rights are being represented properly. Also, your lawyer can keep you updated on any changes to sexting laws, which are constantly undergoing revision.