Sexting is a term the media has given to the practice—usually among teens—of sending sexually explicit messages through a cell phone or via instant messenger. The advancement of technology has given cell phones astounding capabilities and many of them are now able to record and send photos and videos. One study finds that one-fifth of teens between the ages of 13 and 19 have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves through a text or an online posting while a third of those between the ages of 20 and 26 have done so.
Teenage girls are more likely than teen boys to send suggestive photos of themselves out into cyberspace. On one hand adults shouldn’t necessarily be surprised about the sexting habits of teens given that young people have been exchanging sexually suggestive letters and messages for generations. The difference now lies in the technology and the fact that a photo shared between two people can quickly be splashed across the entire Internet, becoming an overnight phenomenon.
What Teens May Not Realize
Many teens feel they are simply sharing a suggestive photograph with a boyfriend or girlfriend and are shocked when those photos are shared with others. Worse, once a digital image is out there it cannot be taken back, and it leaves a digital footprint which can go on and on. Peer pressure is a factor in teen sexting as over half of all teen girls who have engaged in sexting cite pressure from teen boys. Only 18% of teen boys acknowledge pressure to engage in sexting behaviors leading experts to worry further about the power imbalances inherent in teen relationships.
Sexting is Illegal
Under federal law, sexting is illegal, falling under the “creation, distribution and possession of child pornography,” and is a felony offense. Many prosecutors are aggressively going after those taking the pictures as well as those possessing them, meaning a teen who merely received a suggestive text could find themselves in serious trouble. Some lawmakers are working to change the current laws, feeling they are applied unfairly. Most state’s pornography laws were in place well before the advent of cell phones and digital cameras, causing sexting to be lumped into the quite serious child pornography or child exploitation laws.
This means that a teen who thought they were doing something risqué but relative harmless could find themselves subject to a life of registration as a sex offender and could even be sentenced to jail time. The necessity of sex offender registration could lead to a lifetime of economic and social limitations for a teenager who simply made a stupid mistake. Some states mandate fines up to $100,000 and prison terms up to 20 years, although there are lesser fines and prison terms.
What to Do if You or Your Child Has Been Charged With Sexting
As a parent of a teen charged with sexting you may be extremely worried and confused and not know what you need to do to help your child save his or her future. You need a criminal defense attorney who can successfully stand up to an over-zealous prosecutor, fighting to have the charges dismissed. You don’t want a black mark following your teen for the rest of his or her life, changing the future forever. Sexting charges are extremely serious bringing prison, hefty fines and sex offender registration. Don’t wait, hoping the charges will go away, rather take control of your life or the life of your teen and hire a knowledgeable personal injury attorney who will take the charges seriously and fight hard for the rights and freedom of the accused.