Sexting—Child Pornography or Not?

Sexting is the term used to describe the act of sending nude, partially nude or sexually explicit photographs to someone by means of a mobile phone or computer – an act that some psychology experts now consider a normal part of adolescence.

The legal system often becomes involved when those photos are made public without the permission of the photographed person. Although these cases can be quite unsettling and illustrate inappropriate behavior by most moral standards, they are becoming increasingly difficult to prosecute because the incidents usually involve youth, and the act is not entirely illegal.

Lawyers and prosecutors have found this to be a sensitive area, and it’s rare to see associated cases actually get to court. Not only has the distributor broken the law by distributing sexually explicit photographs, but the victim is also partly responsible because he or she produced the images, which are considered child pornography if he or she is under the age of 18. When the photographed people are not minors, cases of unauthorized distribution of sexually explicit photos become even trickier to take to court because it’s often the victim who sent them to the distributor in the first place.

By law, child pornography is a form of child sexual exploitation that consists of any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor. Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, importation, reception or possession of any image of child pornography.

When people call on lawyers to charge someone who distributed a photograph from a “sext,” they are indirectly asking the lawyer to pursue child pornography charges, which are somewhat subjective and may be excessive for the given situation.

In the instances where cases have qualities noteworthy enough to prosecute, lawyers will look for maliciousness or harassment. When neither are present, counseling may be a more appropriate route than prosecution.

Prevention is critical in decreasing the number of sexting cases that reach the legal system. It’s important for parents, teachers and law enforcement officials to educate children and young adults on cyber-safety and maintaining privacy while online. Phones and computers are powerful devices, and once a photo or video is sent, the sender loses all control over its distribution. If a teenager or anyone else fails to keep that in mind, they may end up in a situation that is not only embarrassing and detrimental to their reputation, but could land them in legal hot water.

For more information about sexting or how it may pertain to your individual circumstances, contact the criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Douglas T. Sachse.

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