Sexting: When laws made to protect children are used against them

The sending of sexually explicit images by cell phone or email has become the social norm in recent years. The phenomenon is known as sexting. Twenty-eight percent of teens have claimed to have sexted, while 57 percent had been asked to send a sext, according to a study published in the July 2012 issue of Pediatrics Medicine.

The most common reason kids give for sexting is that their boyfriend or girlfriend wanted the picture. Surveys show that in the majority of cases the picture lands where it is meant to be. Very few recipients share explicit selfies without the sender’s consent. The Atlantic’s recent article on the topic of sexting has finally shed light on the dangers and consequences of sexting in Ohio and around the country.

Technology is evolving fast and many states laws are silent when it comes to sexting. As a result, teens are left being prosecuted under State child pornography laws. Because child pornography laws were intended to prosecute adult predators, teens in some states are facing drastic consequences for petty mistakes and stupid decisions. The consequences can be dire. Teenagers who participate in sexting in states that don’t distinguish sexting from child pornography laws face felony charges, jail time, and being registered as a sex offender for the rest of their life. Being labeled a sex offender means that these teen will be easily confused with adults convicted of rape, gross sexual imposition, and other heinous sex crimes against children. Currently only 22 states have laws or proposed bills that reduce crimes of teens sexting one another to a misdemeanor or less: Arizona, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Vermont.

Organizations like the ACLU advocate the non-criminalization of teen sexting. They feel the proper response is educating teens rather than threatening criminal charges. They believe that current criminal offenses should be clarified to exempt adolescents who take, send and receive nude photos, and should be exempt from the Adam Walsh act which potentially labels teens who take, send and receive nude photos as sex offenders.

Florida minors who sext are charged with a non-criminal violation for their first offense, and a $60 fine or eight hours of community service. They also must attend classes on the dangers of sexting. This law takes into consideration that kids are not adults. They make irresponsible decisions because they are still in the process of learning to navigate the world. Child pornography laws, on the other hand, are aimed to prevent adults from taking advantage of children. Because sexting usually involves only children, applying child pornography laws means that the victim is often punished along with the offender. A teenager could be charged as a sex offender for disseminating their own picture. Under Ohio Law, dissemination of child pornography is a second-degree felony with penalties of up to eight years in prison or detention in the Department of Youth Services until the age of twenty-one.

It is apparent that child pornography laws that carry the potential for a felony conviction and sex offender restrictions, are not meant to address sexting. In Licking Heights High School in Ohio the county prosecutor filed felony charges against a 15-year old girl for sending a nude photo to a boy she wanted to date. The charges were illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, a second-degree felony; and possession of criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony. It makes little sense to consider teenage girls taking photos of their own bodies a similar offense to sexual abuse committed against them. Doing so sends the message that if your trust is violated because someone distributes a photograph that you did not consent to sharing with anyone else, it is your own fault. This is analogous to blaming a victim of rape because they dressed provocatively.

If you or a loved one is being accused of a crime involving sexting, call the attorneys at The Law Office of Brian Jones, LLC. We have handled these cases in the past, stay abreast of the changing legal and social attitudes about sexting and employ a variety of tactics to destroy the State’s case and prevent your loved one’s life from tragic, life-long consequences.