Underage “Sexting” Now Punishable as a Sex Crime in a Growing Number of Jurisdictions
As cellular telephone technology advances at an extremely rapid pace, more and more teenagers are possessing phones with the capabilities to snap still photos or record short videos. Coupled with the fact that as a society, children are becoming acquainted with sex at younger ages, this technology has led to the practice of sexting; sending nude photos or other sexually explicit photos and/or videos to a recipient via cell phone. The practice of sexting has led to numerous ethical and moral arguments, but the practice amongst teens has caught the attention of law enforcement. In many jurisdictions, these sexually explicit images and videos, sent amongst teenagers, are violations of child pornography laws.
An online survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy showed that one-in-five teenage participants have sent and/or received sexually explicit material via cell phone. Nearly two-thirds of those who admitted to sexting only did so within a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship; however teens in the other one-third admitted to sexting for the purpose of “hooking-up”. It is this culture of a casual sexual relationship which causes worry amongst advocacy groups who blame society’s attitude for the first rise in teenage pregnancy rates in the past fifteen years.
A Delaware middle-school recently dealt with an incident where cell phones were confiscated during class because they were forbidden in the classroom, only to find sexually explicit material upon inspection of the phone’s content. The school determined the images were not sent at or during school and decided to notify the students’ parents to deal with the problem. Other teens have not been as lucky. Another student in Delaware faces obscenity charges for sending nude photos of himself to classmates. In Pennsylvania, seven students were charged with sending or receiving child pornography when their phones were discovered to contain explicit images sent between the students. Convictions for these offenses not only will carry potential confinement, fines, and psychological evaluations, but may also require those convicted to be registered as sex offenders.
Many oppose prosecution in these cases for the simple reason that the participants do not have a criminal intent, but rather are merely conforming to society as they see it. There are no penalties for the same consensual actions amongst those of age. Many agree that the responsibility stems with the parents to talk to their children. Children should understand that once an image is sent, they no longer have any control over it; and with today’s technology, such material can easily end-up on the internet. Teens should understand that cellular phone technology does not come with a guarantee of privacy.
Federal Law defines child pornography as “a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting, photograph, film, video, or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where it a) depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and is obscene, or b) depicts an image that is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in graphic bestiality, sadistic or masochistic abuse, or sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, and such depiction lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Possessing, Making, and Distributing child pornography is illegal in all 50 states, including Pennsylvania, and it is an offense which carries serious legal penalties.
If you have been arrested and charged with owning, making, or distributing child pornography, the Law Offices of Marc Neff can help. There are defenses which are available to you, so do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff immediately.