Some states including CT, NY, SD, NE, FL, NJ, WV & VA, have implemented strict punishments for teens convicted of sexting. Teenagers convicted of these crimes may face extensive jail terms, criminal records, being placed on the sex offender registry and the stigma and employment problems that come with that; incredibly severe punishments for the sending or receiving of an explicit image at a young age.
Teens charged with these crimes can possibly face long jail terms, permanent criminal records, and even the possibility of being placed on the sex offender registry for life!
A recent case from Manassas, VA involved a 17-year-old boy charged with manufacturing and distributing child pornography. He had sent explicit images to his 15-year-old girlfriend, whose mother reported it to the police, and the boy was charged with two felonies. An overzealous prosecutor attempted to compel the boy to undergo a medical procedure in order to obtain a photograph of his erect penis. Due to the resulting public outcry, the search warrant was ultimately abandoned, however reprimand was still pursued and he received a year’s probation, with charges able to be dismissed following 12 months good behavior. The boy avoided being placed on the sex offender registry.
The severity of a child’s action in terms of sexting is not always fully understood by both the children involved or their parents, but all 50 states have some type of legal enforcement.
While most parents understand that a child caught with sexually explicit images on their phone is criminal, the severity of the charges that could be assessed against the child can be sobering. For example, in states that have not specifically addressed sexting, it is very possible that the state will defer to its child pornography laws to address the action. As such, parents and their children need to begin to appreciate the following:
- Possession of a sexually explicit image of a minor is a crime in and of itself.
- Distribution (sending a sexually explicit image of a minor to others) is a crime in and of itself.
- Promoting (the act of taking the picture of a minor who is engaged in a sexual act, even if the person taking the photo is the object of the photo) or coercing or soliciting (requesting a minor or tricking a minor into sending a sexually explicit image) is a crime in and of itself.
- A teenager who takes a naked picture of themselves and sends it to another teen, has technically committed 3 felony crimes.
- They could be charged with promoting, distributing and possessing child pornography and if convicted, could face real jail time.
- A teen who receives a sexually explicit image (even if it was not requested) can be charged with possession and if they send the picture to anyone else they are looking at distribution charges if caught.
- If one of the children is 18 (17 in some states) they are adults in the eyes of the law and even though they may be in a relationship with another teen, if that teen is under the age of 18 (17 in some states) there is a much greater risk of strict prosecution.
- If convicted, the conviction will most likely be a felony and require the teenager to register as a sex offender.
While prosecutors tend to be reluctant to pursue aggressive sentences for teens who are caught sexting with a boyfriend or girlfriend, however, if the sexting image gets distributed to more than one child, then there is more pressure on the legal system to make an example out of the wrongdoers and impose heavier penalties. Regardless, if a teen gets caught with a sexually explicit image of a minor on their phone, that teen is going to be subject to the criminal process.
Arrests will still be made, lawyers will need to be hired to defend the child, and an incident can follow the child around for the rest of his or her life. Needless to say, it can turn into a very stressful situation from a simple lapse of judgement.
While the criminal component of teenage sexting is by far the most popular topic people focus on when it comes to the topic of sexting, there are many other adverse aspects of teenage sexting that can impact a teenagers life or his or her families life in a negative way, including the following:
- Civil Liability for Parents
- Exposure to Sexual Predators and Pedophiles
- College Admissions/Job Placement
- Emotional Distress / Embarrassment
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