The Legalities of Sexting

The Legalities of Sexting

This month in Decatur, Illinois, 5 teenagers who shared nude photos of themselves via cell phone were arrested and now face felony child pornography charges. They range in age from 13 to 16.

Though this story may seem shocking, the truth is teen sexting is happening in every state and county in America. Sometimes sexting is just a case of bad judgment – teens being teens, if you will. When nude photos spread, sexting can involve bullying, humiliation, or in the Decatur case, worse.

In some states, the only applicable law for these acts is possession and distribution of child pornography – laws that result in lengthy sentences, and sometimes, require sex offender registration. Sexting teens will fall into the same category as predatory adults.

”Legal professionals should consider the intent and impact behind the behavior when determining how to handle teen sexting” says Jennifer White, an attorney at Futures Without Violence, who, along with Michael Runner, have provided legal education and guidance nationally on these cases.

In other words, it is crucial to know whether or not the photo was taken consensually, whether it was meant to remain private, and whether or not the teen was pressured into sending the nude photograph. Other factors for legal professionals to consider are how widely distributed the nude photograph was, any significant age difference between the sexting partners, and any history of coercive or abusive relationships.

Ms. White and Mr. Runner have provided education and edited a guide for judges on this complicated issue. This July, Jennifer White and Judge Videtta Brown of Baltimore, Maryland, will lead an education session for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges on teen sexting.

The session will help judges navigate this complex and ever-changing issue, and guide them on how to approach these cases in a tailored and nuanced manner within the existing laws.

Teen sexting is not going away, and it is vital that our legal professionals are up to the challenges posed by technology.

To learn more about issues that many teens will face today, including sexting, please visit our factsheet.

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