Chances are that you’ve heard the word “sexting” before, even if you’re not entirely sure what it is. Sexting involves sending and/or receiving sexually explicit text messages through your electronic device (like a smartphone or laptop).
The messages may include photo or video attachments with explicit sexual content. In many cases, people who are romantically involved (boyfriend/girlfriend, married couples) may “sext” each other.
While sexting is common among adults, it has also seen a rise in popularity among teenagers. High school students have begun sexting, and it can raise concerns about their safety.
Why is Sexting Illegal?
If you’ve heard of sexting, you may wonder why it can be illegal. What would be wrong with trading a few sexy photos with your significant other? Generally speaking, private sharing of nude or suggestive photos between consenting adults may not be illegal. However, many states have laws that make sexting a crime—mainly due to concerns about the risks to safety and privacy.
There are risks to sexting, many that people may not consider in the heat of the moment. While it may seem harmless, it can result in serious problems and create potential conflict. While we don’t like the idea, there is always the potential for hackers to gain access to your phone, which may allow them to see your photos and copy them to use later (for nefarious purposes).
You may intend to share a picture with just one person, but the problem happens when it gets forwarded to multiple people or even posted on the internet for the world to see.
Sexting can lead to some serious consequences, even without hackers in the mix. Some charges and consequences can include
Sexting and Child Pornography
If the person in the photo or video is a minor child, the recipient can be changed with possession of child pornography. Even if both parties consented to the messaging, child pornography can still be at issue. Cases that involve child pornography are taken very seriously, and can often result in felony criminal charges.
Sexting and Issues with Bullying
This is a common concern, especially among high school students. Often photos can be used to bully the person in the photograph. A new form of bullying involves the distribution of sext messages through mass texting to classmates or other students at school.
In some states, this behavior may qualify as cyberbullying, and also involve another layer of laws that can result in criminal charges. The victim of the bullying may suffer from emotional distress as a result, and may require counselling to help them deal with the repercussions of the situation.
Sexting can Constitute Harassment and/or Stalking
In some cases, sexting can result in harassment or stalking. If the photo or video messages wind up in the hands of sexual predator, you can unintentionally put yourself in a dangerous position.
Which States Have Sexting Laws?
The law is still in the process of catching up with modern technology, and sexting is still a relatively new phenomenon. At least 14 states across the U.S. (including Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah, Florida, and Hawaii) have some form of laws regarding sexting on the books, and many others are either considering introducing bills into their legislatures or already have bills working their way through their legislatures.
What are the Penalties for Sexting?
The details of sexting laws may be slightly different depending on what state you live in. Many states include language that requires the photo is of a minor or a child. Common legal penalties may vary depending on your state and the nature of the message or photo, but they can generally include:
- Fines (usually up to $1,000);
- Mandatory counseling (especially for minors);
- Possible jail time (depending on the nature of and circumstances surrounding the messaging); and/or
- Restriction of driving privileges for minors.
Sexting can either result in misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the circumstances of the individual case. In most cases, felony charges can result if the sexting involves child pornography issues and the recipient of the photo is an adult.
Several states also have laws that make teen sexting illegal without involving child pornography. New laws specifically targeted to teen sexting are intended to educate young people about the dangers of sexting. In many cases, violations of these laws can result in punishments involving fines and community service hours.
Do I Need to Consult a Lawyer If I am Facing Charges for Sexting?
If you are facing legal issues regarding sexting, it is in your best interests to talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer can help you talk through the situation that brought up the charges and explain how the sexting laws in your state work.
If you are facing criminal charges, it is important that you talk to a lawyer about representation during hearings and presenting your best defense in court. If you are a victim of sexting and are considering pursuing legal action against the perpetrator, you may also want to consult a personal injury lawyer to help you navigate the legal system and advise you about the best course of action.