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It’s only a picture of a naked girl you’ve been talking to for a while. But it’s one that could land you in jail if you aren’t careful.
As defined by the U.S. court system, sexting is “an act of sending sexually explicit materials through mobile phones.” The messages may be in the form of a text, photo, or video.
While many teens treat this practice as a casual or harmless act, what they fail to realize is that sexting is actually illegal in some cases and carries some harsh penalties if charges are filed such as jail time, monetary fines, and sometimes sex-offender registration requirements.
Why has sexting become so popular amongst this age demographic? When asked by researchers, teenage girls have a few reasons for why they participate in sexting: 40% do it as a joke, 34% do it to feel sexy, and 12% feel pressured to do it.
So with these statistics in mind, it seems like it is safe to say that peer pressure is an underlying theme to why teens choose to sext. Not surprisingly, peer pressure has been linked to other risky behaviors such as teen illicit drug and alcohol use. The majority of teens with substance abuse problems began using drugs or alcohol as a result of peer pressure.
And like illicit drug use or underage drinking, sexting can get you in trouble with the law.
In some states, sending or receiving a sexually suggestive text or image under the age of 18 is considered child pornography and can result in criminal charges.
This was the case for an 18-year-old Iowa boy who sent a nude picture of himself to a 14-year-old girl after she asked him repeatedly to do so. The jury in the Iowa Supreme Court convicted him of knowingly disseminating obscene material to a minor and required him to register as a sex offender.
Indiana used to have similar rules up until a few years ago, when they introduced a new law that protects minors.
Indiana Code 35-42-4-4 spells out the guidelines for punishable sexting offenses. You can send or a receive a sext to or from someone under the age of 18 without getting into trouble with the law if all of these requirements are met:
- The photo is created on, sent, and stored using a cellphone or social media site (such as Snapchat);
- The person who receives the sext is no more than 4 years older or younger than the person who is in the photo;
- You are in a dating relationship or personal relationship with the other person;
- The person who receives or sends the sext is no more than 22 years-old;
- The person who sent the photo agreed to the other person receiving the photo.
In the U.S., 8 states have enacted bills to protect minors from sexting, and an additional 13 states have proposed bills to legislation.
Although the Code was designed to protect minors who consensually engage in sexting, it definitely does not protect someone who is knowingly distributing the message to others or someone who is age eighteen or older sending nude texts to a minor.
If you share a sext with someone else, you could face jail time or financial penalties.
Why the harsh penalties?
For one, it’s considered child pornography, and that’s been illegal long before sexting hit the scene.
The second reason is to prevent bullying and ultimately suicide. Take, for instance, Ohio teen, Jessica Logan. Logan had sent nude photos of herself to her boyfriend, and when they broke up, he sent them to hundreds of other high school girls who mercilessly bullied her for months. After over a year of bullying and being called a “slut” and “whore”, Logan committed suicide.
So before you send that next message, think about if you’re sending it because you really want to, and if you’re okay with others seeing it. Because even though it’s against the law, there’s a decent chance they will.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. “Peer Pressure.” http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Peer-Pressure-104.aspx. Accessed September 1, 2016.
Eraker, Elizabeth . “Stemming Sexting: Sensible Legal Approaches to Teenagers’ Exchange of Self-Produced Pornography.” BERKELEY TECHNOLOGY LAW JOURNAL 555 (2010): unknown. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
Ind. Code § 35-42-4-4 (P.L. 158-2013) available at http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/code/title35/ar42/ch4.html accessed on 16 Apr. 2014.
National Institute of Justice. “Much Ado About Sexting.” National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Accessed September 1, 2016.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. “Teenage Sexting Statistics.” GuardChild. Accessed September 1, 2016.