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Teenager Texting And Sexting: Legal Consequences Everyone Should Know

The Law Firm of Andrea M. Kolski

As widespread as it is, teen sexting is a relatively new phenomenon. Many state legislatures are still figuring out what to do about it.

This is the main reason why sexting laws vary depending on the state. In 23 states, sexting is a child pornography felony. In some states, the punishment may involve sex offender registration and a prison term of up to 20 years.

Would your child sext someone else? It’s easy to assume they wouldn’t, but today’s teens are often pressured into exchanging sexual images or videos. Having an open conversation with them is a good way to ease them into expressing concerns.

Looking for more information about sexting? Here’s a brief overview of this topic and some of the most common questions surrounding it.

The Definition of Sexting

First things first: what is sexting? How do state laws define it?

In short, sexting is the act of digitally sharing sexually explicit images or videos. The term “sexting” itself is a portmanteau of the words “sex” and “texting.” Sexting can involve nude or semi-nude images or even explicit texts.

Most sexting occurs via text messages, but any digital transfer fits the bill. These include emails, Snapchat selfies, or TikTok messages. Many young people aren’t aware that what they’re doing can be illegal and have serious ramifications.

Is Sexting Illegal?

Sexting involving minors does violate state and federal child pornography laws. That said, these laws are also very broad.

For example, federal law considers all sexually implicit images of a minor to be child pornography. The government can prosecute anyone for the production and possession of child pornography.

Sexting is also a strict liability crime. If a teen believes that the sext came from an adult but was from a teen, the government can still prosecute them. In this case, simple possession is enough for a guilty verdict.

Of course, sexting doesn’t always fall under child pornography laws. In recent years, plenty of states have addressed the teen sexting issue. Their laws vary based on whether:

  • A conviction will constitute a felony, violation, or misdemeanor
  • There’s a need for punitive action against sending or receiving sexts
  • There are legal provisions for “Romeo and Juliet” cases, or two minors sending sexts to each other

In Texas, the state has legal provisions to treat sexting as a violation. This may involve the judge ordering counseling, community service, or a fine. In states such as Utah and Florida, sexting still constitutes a felony.

When it comes to sexting between minors, state laws vary quite a bit. As a general rule, though, the law treats these cases with more levity than child pornography. Some states, such as Nevada, don’t involve sex offender registration at all.

Consensual Sexting

Consent plays a big role when it comes to receiving or sending sexts. If sexting occurs between two adults, consent can be an affirmative defense.

That said, only some states allow this defense. If the sexting occurred between minors, only Nebraska treats consent as a defense. Other states stick to the statutory rape laws, which say that minors can’t provide consent.

It’s important to note the difference between sexting and revenge porn. The latter occurs when one person shares sexts of a former dating partner. Most of the time, this happens after a break-up as payback.

Revenge porn often leads to a crime known as sextortion. This occurs when someone threatens to distribute these images if the victim doesn’t do what they want. This can involve performing illegal acts, paying money, and so on.

In many states, revenge porn is illegal for both minors and adults. If a state doesn’t have a law to address revenge porn, it will likely treat it as child pornography or harassment.

Sexting Laws in Texas

In Texas, sexting laws tend to go easier on the teens and stricter on the adults. They also describe sexting as receiving or sending illegal materials.

Texas Penal Code §43.24 states that sexting between an adult and a minor is a crime. An adult sending a sext of a minor to another adult is also illegal. This can qualify as possessing or distributing child pornography, which is very serious.

If a minor sends a sext of a minor to other minors, he/she is committing a crime. However, the law protects teen couples who indulge in sexting. If a minor sends a sext to his/her dating partner who is within two years of their age, this isn’t a crime.

Discussing Sexting

Now that you know why sexting is dangerous, how do you deal with it? What do you do if you discover that your child has been sexting?

In these situations, your first instinct may be to take their phone away and punish them. This isn’t a good idea, as it’s likely to damage your relationship. What you should do instead is try to talk to them about the issue in a thoughtful manner.

The most important thing to do is have this conversation before it’s too late. Talk to your child about affirmative consent and leave them room to ask questions. For best results, you’ll want to check in from time to time to make sure everything is fine.

Finally, ensure that they’re fully aware of the consequences of sexting. If their situation has entered the legal territory, create an action plan to protect them. If someone is blackmailing them, report it to law enforcement.

More on Sexting Laws

As you can see, sexting laws are still a work in progress in many states. While there has been some progress in defining the laws, currenlty most authorities will err on the side of caution and prosecute cases to the fullest extent- even if this means destroying the future of an innocent young person.

Regardless of your state laws, sexting can have serious consequences. Were you charged with a sexting crime or questioned by the police about it? If so, your best bet is to contact a local criminal defense lawyer right away.

Still struggling with the answer to the question, “Is sexting child porn?” Looking for legal advice on a Texas sexting case? Contact us right here — we can help you understand the law and defend your loved ones.

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