The Dangers of Teens and Sexting

South Carolina does not have a “sexting law.”

But that doesn’t mean that sending nude or sexually explicit photos on your phone won’t land you in serious legal trouble under existing SC laws that can trap adults and teenagers.

States that have not passed sexting laws usually charge suspects under other laws that have been on the books since before sexting was a thing.

That’s how police in Louisiana arrested a man accused of sending naked photos of his adult ex-girlfriend to her friends on the popular social media app Snapchat. The man was charged with nonconsensual disclosure of a private image.

It’s a serious charge, and the suspect may suffer harsh consequences for the rest of his life. But the most serious charges and harshest penalties are reserved for cases when children are involved, whether young people are included in sexual photos or when they themselves send or receive inappropriate pictures – even pictures of themselves.

In addition to laws against sending sexually explicit photos of children, there are laws that prohibit sending “harmful material” to minors, which includes sexual images of minors or of adults.

Adults and sexting

If an adult sends an inappropriate photo to a minor, they can be charged with disseminating obscene material to a minor or with sexual exploitation of a minor.

The specific charges would depend on whether the adult took the photos, sent or received them, or solicited the messages.

This is how these child pornography laws were intended to be used – to prosecute adults. But as more young people use their phones to send and receive sexual material, police and prosecutors are also using these laws against kids.

Minors and sexting

Sexting is unfortunately popular among teenagers. Maybe a girl sends a nude photo of herself to a boy she wants to date. He promises to keep the picture on his phone. But, in many cases, the photo ends up in circulation among the teens’ peers.

Both teens could be charged under child pornography laws, and, if convicted, they could face stiff fines, up to a decade in prison, and a requirement to register as a sex offender. Even minors will be forced to register as sex offenders if they are convicted of a sex crime…

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that these laws are intended to protect children from being exploited or abused by adults, not to impose such harsh penalties on children. Minors should not go to jail or be classified as sex offenders for making the kinds of reckless decisions that kids will inevitably make.

Some states have moved to reduce teen sexting crimes to misdemeanors. In Florida, a minor caught sexting is charged with a non-criminal offense, must pay a $60 fine or do community service, and is required to attend classes about the dangers of sexting.

In SC, teenagers can be charged criminally with a range of felonies or misdemeanors for sending or forwarding nude photos, including some that do not require sex offender registry:

  • Dissemination of obscene material to a minor;
  • Sexual exploitation of a minor;
  • Contributing to the delinquency of a minor; or
  • Disturbing schools.

In most states, including South Carolina, prosecutors still lean on outdated child pornography-related laws in sexting cases.

SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Columbia, Lexington, and Myrtle Beach

If you or your child have been questioned by police or charged with a sexting crime, call us as soon as possible – before speaking to police or school officials if possible.

Call at 843-444-6122 or fill out our online contact form if you have questions or to set up a free initial consultation.

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