Understanding the legal implications of teen-to-teen sexting

When teens send sexts of themselves to other willing teens, there could still be legal implications because of the sexualized nature of the images.

Many Georgia teens participate in sending sexual pictures of themselves via text messages. The Washington Post states that sexting, which can include sending pictures, messages or videos, is done by approximately one in four teenagers across the country. Sexting can be done between two consenting individuals, but sometimes the images are shared without the knowledge of the person who sent it. In fact, 12 percent of people who receive a sext have reported forwarding it without asking for permission from the original sender. Even when these images and messages are shared between two consenting teens, there can be legal implications due to the pornographic nature of the content.

Misdemeanor or felony?

In many states, teens who send or forward sexts can be charged with a felony for sharing the images. This serious charge could come with fines of up to $100,000 or even five to 20 years of jail time, according to The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. These charges could be filed even if the two teens were sending the messages willingly back and forth to each other. The seriousness of the charges may be tied to the fact that the images have an underage individual in them.

Some states, including Georgia, have reassessed the charges brought against teens sending these pictures to other teens. If the images were sent by someone at least 14 years old to a peer who is 18 years old or younger, the sender would be charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Of course, this modification only applies to individuals willingly sending a picture of themselves. If a sext is sent with the intention of harassing or embarrassing the person shown in the image or video, it could still result in a felony charge. Similarly, if money is exchanged for the pictures, a felony charge could result.

Sexting or child pornography?

Sending explicit images of anyone under the age of 18 could be considered child pornography rather than sexting. Many states try to differentiate between the two because having or distributing pornography with a child in it can be a serious crime. In most parts of the country, the age of the person in the image and the age of the person who possesses the image is considered when figuring out if something is a sext or child pornography. However, if the recipient shares the image with other people, the situation could be labeled as distributing sexual images involving a minor rather than sexting.

To many Georgia teens, sexting may seem like a normal part of life. However, this activity could lead to serious legal charges, which is why anyone involved in sending or receiving these images may want to talk with a knowledgeable attorney.