Sex Offenses Law

Can Sexting Be Considered a Sex Crime?

This content contains sensitive subject matter related to legal defense for crimes of a sexual nature.

Sexting has become more popular as more people have access to mobile phones and cameras. It is easy to take an explicit photo and send it to someone through a text message or social media app in seconds. However, in some situations, sexting can be a crime.

The criminal laws for sexting and sharing sexual images online differ in every state. Before you think of sending nude photos from your cell phone, make sure you understand the laws in your state. If you’re accused of a sex crime, talk to a local criminal defense attorney about your legal rights.

What Is Sexting?

Sexting involves sending sexually explicit images or messages electronically, usually by phone. Sexting often involves sharing photos between partners. Sexting can also be sending unsolicited nudes. For most people, the biggest threat from sexting is having someone else find the images. However, when sexting involves teens, it could be considered a crime.

When Is Sexting a Crime?

Sexting is generally legal when it involves consenting adults over the age of 18 sending nude images of each other. While people of all ages may choose to use their phones to send sexually explicit photos, when sexting involves images of minors, it can be trouble.

Sexting explicit depictions of minors can be considered child pornography. According to the Federal Trade Commission, sending nude images or posting nude pictures of someone without their consent can also be a crime and is coined as revenge porn. If this occurs, you can report it to the FTC and talk to an attorney so you understand your Cyber Rights.

Teen Sexting

It is a crime for anyone to create, distribute, or possess sexual images of a minor. This includes minors taking nude selfies and sending them to a boyfriend or girlfriend. Even if both people involved are the same age, underage sexual images are illegal to have or share.

Some states specifically address sexting crimes. For example, in Illinois, it is even a crime for a minor to knowingly transmit sexually explicit photos of themselves, and there is no exception in the law for taking a nude picture of yourself and sending it if you are a minor. Additionally, in Illinois, it is also against the law for a minor to possess sexually explicit images of another minor.

Sharing nude pictures of someone else without their consent can also be a crime. Revenge porn can involve sharing photos or videos of a former intimate partner without consent.

In most states, texting or sharing nonconsensual pornography is a crime. For example, under New York Penal Code 245.15, it is illegal to disseminate an intimate and identifiable image without consent with the intent to cause harm.

What Are Sexting Law Penalties?

The penalties for sexting depend on state-specific laws. The penalties can depend on the type of material shared, the ages of the people involved, and where the images were shared. In some states, teen sexting is considered a violation and could include fines or probation. However, in other states, teen sexting can be a misdemeanor or a felony offense.

For example, in Florida, a minor commits sexting if they use a computer to distribute to another minor any nude photo or video that is considered harmful to minors. A first-time offense is considered a violation and includes community service, a fine, and completing a cyber-safety program. A second violation is a 1st-degree misdemeanor, and a 3rd offense is a felony.

In Utah, teen sexting by 16 or 17-year-olds is a class A misdemeanor. Sexting by a person who is 18 years or older and the subject is a minor can bring third-degree felony charges.

Some states may prosecute someone who creates or sends images of underage sexual content as sexual exploitation of a minor or under child pornography laws. Under federal law, the penalties for child pornography charges can include from 5 to 20 years in federal prison. Sex offenses can also mean putting you on the sex offender registry, which limits where you can live or work.

Are There Defenses to Sexting Criminal Charges?

Young people can make mistakes, like sexting the wrong person. If you are accused of teen sexting and worry about criminal charges and damage to your reputation, find out your legal options. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explore possible defenses, including:

  • The photos are not sexual
  • Someone else sent the photos
  • You didn’t know the other person was underage
  • The photos were unsolicited, and you immediately deleted them

It can also be a defense if the police violate your Fourth Amendment rights by illegally searching or seizing your phone.

How Can a Lawyer Help With Sex Crime Charges?

Criminal offenses for having or sharing images of underage sexual acts are taken very seriously and can even involve federal charges. The penalties for sex crimes can include a prison sentence, felony criminal record, and sex offender registration.

Find a criminal defense lawyer to learn about your legal rights and defense strategies. If your teenager is facing charges in juvenile court for a first offense, an attorney can helpnegotiate to go through a diversion program to avoid a criminal record.

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