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Why Is Sexting Illegal?

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What Is Sexting?

Sexting is defined as the act of sending and/or receiving sexually explicit text messages through a phone, computer, or other electronic device. The messages will usually contain an attachment of an explicit photo or video of the person sending. In some cases, persons who are involved romantically may “sext” messages to each other.

The act of sexting is mostly associated with teens, in particular high school students. However, sexting is also common among adults as well. Many states have begun criminalizing sexting due to concerns over safety and privacy. 

Why Is Sexting Illegal?

If you’ve heard of sexting, you may have several questions like “Why is sexting illegal?”, or “Can I be charged with sexting?” Many states have begun criminalizing sexting due to concerns over safety and privacy. In fact, sexting is illegal in many states due to the various risks that have been identified and associated with the act. 

For example, sexting can lead to dangers and violations such as:

  • Child Pornography charges: If the subject matter of the sext message is a minor, it is possible for the recipient to be charged with possession of child pornography. This can sometimes be true even if both parties consented to the sext messaging
  • Bullying: A common concern among students is that of bullying. A newer form of bullying involves the distribution of sext messages to the student body through mass texting
  • Harassment and Stalking: Sexting can lead to harassment and stalking, especially where the photo or video messages fall into the hands of a sexual predator. Sexting can place a person in danger, much in the same way abuses are perpetrated through “online dating” sites

Thus, while sexting may seem harmless, it is actually associated with very severe dangers and potential conflicts. Another danger is that newer mobile technologies allow some hackers to access the contents of people’s phones; this might allow them to view, copy, and misuse the pictures that may be stored in a mobile device or smartphone.  

Which States Have Sexting Laws?

Sexting is still a relatively new phenomenon. Many states legislatures are introducing anti-sexing statutes into their criminal laws. At least 14states already have some form of sexting law in their books. These include:  Wyoming, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Indiana. Several other states are also considering introducing sexting laws through their legislature.   

What Are the Penalties for Sexting?

Sexting laws usually define sexting as “the practice of sending sexually graphic or explicit pictures of a minor by cell phone”. Most states include language requiring that the photo be of a minor or a child. Legal penalties for sexting may include:

  • Fines not exceeding $1,000
  • Mandatory counseling (especially for minors)
  • Possible jail time
  • Restriction of driving privileges for minors

Also, depending on the circumstances, sexting can either result in misdemeanor or more serious felony charges. In most cases, felony charges will result if the sexting involves child pornography issues and the recipient is not a minor. Felony charges usually involve very high criminal fines and prison sentences of greater than one year.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Legal Issues Involving Sexting?

Sexting is a very serious criminal offense in some jurisdictions, and anti-sexting laws are becoming more widespread each year. If you have any legal issues involving sexting, you may wish to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area.  Your attorney can help inform you of the sexting laws in your state. If you are facing criminal charges, it is important that you consult with a criminal lawyer for representation during hearings. If you are the victim of sexting, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit against the perpetrator using the services of a personal injury lawyer.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 07-12-2018 06:31 PM PDT

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