Most parents of today’s teenagers grew up in a world without cell phones and widely available internet. Texting was not a thing. And neither was “sexting.”
Sexting is when a person sends an explicit message or photograph via text message or another message application on their phone, computer, or other electronic device, as a sex crime lawyer Grand Rapids, MI trusts can explain. It is not uncommon for teens today to engage in sexting.
It is important for today’s parents to talk to their teens about sexting. Not only can there be practical consequences to sexting, but there can also be serious legal consequences for sexting that most teens and parents don’t know about. A teen under the age of eighteen who sends or receives an explicit image of themselves or another minor is guilty of a serious crime that could result in prison time and placement on the sex offender registry.
From a merely practical standpoint, sexting is a bad idea for teens. Allowing explicit photographs of yourself to get out in the world can have real negative consequences. For example, if a teen girl sends an image to her boyfriend, she doesn’t have the expectation that the photo is ever going to be seen by anyone else but the boyfriend. However, it is not uncommon to see, after a breakup, the boyfriend pass the image around among friends, post the image on social media, or post the image on a “revenge porn” website. This can result in embarrassment and humiliation. Future employers will forever find these explicit images by googling your teen’s name. You can’t ever truly remove an image from the internet once it is out there.
Your teenager having explicit images of themselves floating around the internet can also make them vulnerable to people who may want to exploit your teen. They may be contacted by someone who demands money or more explicit images in exchange for not publicly disseminating the images.
In addition to those types of problems, the legal consequences of sexting can be incredibly serious. Even if your teen is of a legal age to consent to sexual activity in your state (in many states teens can consent to sex at 16 or 17 years of age), taking an explicit image of a person under the age of 18, even of themselves, and even with the teen’s consent, is illegal, and constitutes child pornography.
A teen who takes an explicit image of themselves is guilty of producing child pornography, which is a crime under both federal and state law. A teen who then sends the image to another person via text message is guilty of distribution of child pornography. A teen or adult who receives the image is guilty of receipt and possession of child pornography. If that person passes on the photograph to yet another person, they are guilty of distribution of child pornography.
These are crimes that carry penalties of up to thirty years or more in prison, and many of the crimes have mandatory minimums that don’t make probation a possibility. They can also result in placement on a state’s sex offender registry. Prosecutors across the country are charging teens with these crimes for sexting. They can have lifelong consequences that parents should ensure that their teens understand.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Blanchard Law for their insight into criminal defense.