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Teen Sexting Laws

Since 1990s cell phones gained huge popularity and can now be found almost everywhere. New gadgets appear all the time. Modern mobile phones, especially smartphones, have a range of expanded capabilities. One of the most popular of their features is taking photos and sharing them. Besides being exciting, interesting and handy, it became the reason of phenomenon called “sexting,” when someone sends nude or explicit photos to others with the help of their mobile phones.

Apart from the risk of the information leak to the Internet, sexting is also prosecuted legally in some states. A range of specific laws prescribes penalties, which are aimed at teenagers sending sexually explicit photos. Generally, penalties at teens are not as severe as those aimed at adults who sext with an underage person.

Sexting laws became a rather recent phenomenon in the field of law. Specialized laws aiming teen sexting are currently in force only in some states, but the trend for adopting them becomes more evident each year. Meanwhile, other states may still prosecute sexting under existing laws targeting child pornography.

Teens as well as some parents underestimate the consequences that sexting can bring. Read on and see why you should talk to your teen about sexting.


Those laws considering sexting that have already been adopted, differ from state to state, but they all focus on sexually explicit photos sent by one teenager to another. For example, Louisiana’s sexting law are targeting all teenagers between the age of 13 to 17 who send or keep suggestive or nude photos. Connecticut’s laws differ for those who send and who receive such images. It’s interesting that laws in Texas make an exception if the two sexting are the minors who have two or less years of age difference and these two are in a relationship.

Sending as well as receiving sexually explicit images is prohibited by teen sexting laws. However, one can’t prevent another person from sending them such photos and therefore, sexting laws target “receiving and keeping.” For example, if a teen has been given a suggestive/pornographic picture from another person, they haven’t violated the law unless they decide to keep it. To avoid penalties, it’s also enough to delete the image after receiving it.

Child Pornography

In some states, in particular in those that don’t have sexting laws, any person creating, keeping or distributing sexually explicit images of an underage child can be charged with child pornography and/or crimes related to it, for example, sexual exploitation of a minor. Child pornography laws work when someone is sending or receiving suggestive/nude images of an underage child. Not only adults but also juveniles who send indecent images to adults can be charged with child pornography.

Sexting in Federal Laws

In particular cases, sexting is considered as a crime under federal law. Producing, receiving, distributing or possessing with intent to distribute revealing images of a juvenile. However, federal prosecution is unlikely, as according to Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA), juveniles, where possible, should be prosecuted in state courts – not federal courts.

Teenagers and adults

It’s important to say that while sexting laws are applied to teens, adults who receive and keeps explicit photos of a person under age, may face the charge with child pornography or crimes similar to that. Sexting laws make the crime of the juveniles not as significant as child pornography.


Possibly involving juvenile and adult courts, teen sexting provides various potential penalties. In states, which have adopted sexting laws, the crime may be considered as a misdemeanor or a petty offense (an offense of this type is less significant). In states where sexting is seen to be child pornography, it is usually considered as a felony and has far more severe penalties.

Juvenile Penalties

A crime committed by an underage person is dealt with through the juvenile justice system that provides a wider range of sanctions, such as:

 - Warning;

 - Fine;

 - Counseling/community service (psychological assistance);

 - Probation (reporting to an officer or school authorities);

 - Detention (a court order to stay in a juvenile center, group home, etc.).

Adult penalties

Adult penalties targeting any person aged 18 and older that consider sexting as child pornography are a lot more severe than juvenile penalties and may include:

 - Incarceration (a possible sentence in prison of at least five years and more);

 - Fines (often significant sums, possibly exceeding $5,000);

 - Probation (term of minimum twelve months and longer);

 - Sex offender registry (registered sex offenders are maintained by the police; they have to report their home address, keep a distance from schools and other places where children gather; they can’t work with kids and may have difficulties in getting any other work. The consequences of being a registered sex offender last for minimum 10 years but generally even more).


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