25-Jan-2010
Is "Sexting" Really a Crime? Written by Claudia Gilburd, Founder, Teen Law School “Sexting” is a common practice among teenagers and young adults that involves sending nude or partially nude photos of themselves to others via cell phone and email. Young people think of it as a fun, flirtatious part of courtship in a cyber-savvy world, but the law sees sexting quite differently. In many states including Arizona, the practice technically falls into the child pornography range of offenses, and can result in felony charges carrying mandatory prison sentences and compulsory sex offender registration.  Disproportionate as the consequences may be, sexting has indeed led to prosecutions of teenagers across the country. In Florida, an 18-year old boy received a nude photo of his 16-year old girlfriend via cell phone and forwarded it to others. He was convicted of a felony child pornography charge, sentenced to five years probation and sex offender registration. Several Ohio teens, one as young as 13, have been charged with 2nd degree felonies, and in Pennsylvania, several felony cases are pending against three 16-18 year old girls whose interests are being challenged in lawsuits filed against prosecutors by the American Civil Liberties Union. This rash of cases and others has led lawmakers everywhere to propose new laws to guard against excessive punishment while still deterring people from sexting. To date in Arizona, no new legislation has been created to address sexting, and prosecutors are wrestling with the increasing number of cases being presented to them. This summer in Tucson, level-headed authorities showed restraint when they brought misdemeanor charges of using a telephone to harass or intimidate against two 13-year old boys who received and forwarded nude photos of a 13-year old girl. They could have been charged under A.R.S. 13-3553 which prohibits “filming, recording, photographing or developing any visual depiction in which a minor is engaged in exploitative exhibition or sexual conduct.” That charge, which is intended to protect children from child pornographers, is a Class 2 felony carrying a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison with no option for probation. Clearly, the law has not yet caught up with technology, and needs to be revised by thoughtful legislators. In the meantime, parents need to talk to their children about how they use technology. Advise them to avoid legal implications by immediately deleting any inappropriate messages they might receive on cell phones or in emails, and by never sending or forwarding such messages to anyone else. Help them understand the emotional and psychological implications of sexting, and that any photo or message that leaves their control cannot be retrieved and has the potential of living forever in cyberspace as a reflection of their character. A great source of additional information for young people is www.athinline.org and Davis Miles is always ready to help you with any specific situation. 

Claudia Gilburd, founder of Teen Law School, is a lay expert in the law’s affect on our children.  Read an introduction to our series, "Your Family & The Law" written by managing partner, Charles E Davis, in our January 2010 newsletter by clicking this link.