Sexting is a new phenomenon in our digital world that has many people, from politicians to teenagers, engaging in this risky online and cell phone activity.
When it comes to minors and sexting, parents, educators, law enforcement and the court system have been uncertain as to how to respond.
The knee-jerk reaction of some prosecutors has been to charge the minors involved in the sending and receiving of nude or semi-nude photos with possession of child pornography. However, child pornography and exploitation laws were created to protect minors from perpetrators and not to prosecute them for consensual behavior between two underage persons.
The Sexting Problem
More than a dozen states have passed legislation to address this digital danger. These laws take away the possibility of felony charges for child porn and either make it a misdemeanor or allow sexting cases involving teens to be eligible for diversion programs. Typically, these programs require the juvenile to complete an education and awareness class about the dangers of sexting or possibly counseling before the charges will be dismissed. The juvenile then avoids having a record for the incident. However, in the majority of states there are no sexting laws per se, so teens still face possible felony charges under the child porn laws.
Regardless of what state a teenager lives in (or country for that matter), sexting remains a common practice among teens worldwide. A 2009 study by the PEW Internet and American Life Project found that approximately 20% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 have sent or received a sexted image. A 2011 study in England reports that 40% of 11 to 14 year olds have engaged in sexting either as the sender or the receiver.
How to Handle the Problem
Although sexting could be considered illegal under the laws in the UK, Canada and Australia, the governments in those countries are focusing on educating teens about the dangers of sexting rather than on prosecution. Meanwhile, China and the United Arab Emirates have enforced penalties for sexting, no matter what the age of the parties involved. In China, mobile phone numbers can be terminated if the users are found sexting. An adult couple in Dubai was sentenced to three months jail for their “sexy texts.”
No matter what the legal penalties may be in one country, without a doubt, there are psychological and social consequences that all teenagers should be aware of and understand. Sexting has resulted in the tragic loss of lives for some teens like Jessica Logan and Hope Witsell who committed suicide after their sexts went viral. An innocent little sext meant for a particular person can easily become public and in anybody’s hands with one click. Celebrities busted with their sex tapes and politicians like the recent Weinergate scandal get the media’s attention and obviously send the wrong message to our youth, but hopefully we can learn from their mistakes. Education and awareness about all of the potential consequences is key to curbing such spontaneous and reckless texts.
About the Author
This article was written by Natalie Jacobs. Natalie currently writes for AsktheJudge.info, a youth justice website answering teens’ and parents’ questions about the laws affecting teens. Prior to joining the AsktheJudge team, Natalie worked as a criminal attorney for five years, which involved some work in the juvenile justice system.