The widespread use of technology has given birth to its own vocabulary. Texting brought us a slew of abbreviations, including LOL, LMAO, BTW, and IDK. The Internet brought us phrases and terms like “Google it” and “Webisode.” Technology has practically spawned its own language: a tongue completely separate from the English you were taught throughout school. One term that you may have heard in the past, also a product of technology, is sexting.1
Sexting is the act of transmitting sexually explicit messages, videos, or (most commonly) photos between mobile devices. This act could be committed between an adult and minor, just adults, or just minors. For instance, if a 16-year-old girl sends her 17-year-old boyfriend a picture of her posing topless, this would be sexting.
Sexting has the potential for several serious negative consequences. Some of the consequences fall into the legal realm, and others do not. Let’s start with those outside of the legal realm.
Once a sexually explicit message (text, video, or photograph) has been sent out, the sender has no further control over it. The receiver may show it to his or her friends, coworkers, or anyone, really. In addition, the receiver may post it on the Internet, where it will exist in some form somewhere–forever. If the message falls into the wrong hands, it could lead to embarrassment, bullying, or worse, such as discipline at work or school. The consequences could be experienced almost immediately or in the distant future.
In most states, including California, sexting can also have serious legal implications. Producing sexually explicit images (including videos) can result in charges of producing pornography. Forwarding or otherwise sharing “sexts” can result in charges of disseminating pornography. Once a minor is involved (either as a receiver or sender) the charges become a lot more serious. You could be charged with possessing child pornography or soliciting a minor (depending on whether you are the sender or receiver). These charges can incur fines, probation, jail time, and sex offender registration.
The legal implications of sexting are not limited to adults. Even when the sender and receiver are both minors, child pornography charges (creating, possessing, disseminating, etc.) may be filed. These charges can result in anything from expulsion from school to jail time (either in a juvenile or adult facility) to having to register as a sex offender for life.
What can seem like relatively harmless, albeit ill-advised, behavior between consenting minors or adults has the potential to incur serious consequences. If your son or daughter sends or receives a sexually explicit photo, it could negatively impact his or her life forever. Because the ramifications of sexting are so severe, it is crucial that you seek legal help if you or a family member are facing charges associated with sexting.