When Teen Sexting Turns Into Criminal Charges
By now, most parents are keenly aware that teens are particularly vulnerable to the appeal of “sexting” (texting sexually explicit material). But this type of electronic communication poses a serious threat to teens, and it’s not just the clear victims who are hurt by youthful indirection. In one case a 17-year-old boy was charged with criminal distribution of child pornography for sending and receiving sexually explicit messages with his girlfriend, also a teen he attended high school with at the time.
This North Carolina boy faced 10 years in jail for his youthful ignorance. And while it’s easy to say that sexting should be stopped, it’s hard to make a case for 10-year prison terms for a 17-year-old and his girlfriend swapping nude photos. Yet, this is precisely how the law is currently developing in this rapidly evolving area.
How Sexting Became a Crime
In South Carolina, Section 16-15-305 of the Criminal Code makes it unlawful to disseminate, procure, or promote obscenity. However, under Section 16-15-335, it is also unlawful to permit a minor to participate in any act that could constitute a violation of Section 16-15-305. Likewise, child pornography laws make it illegal to in any way participate in the making, creating, capturing, dissemination, procurement, and/or sale of material that contains explicit materials depicting a minor.
Under South Carolina law, like most other states, a child 16 or older can be charged as an adult for violating child pornography laws. So, a 16-year-old can theoretically be charged with child pornography (as well as a variety of other related offenses like those above) for snapping a photo of a girlfriend or boyfriend. Just possessing the material on one’s phone is sufficient to meet the strict letter of the law.
Children Can Be Guilty of Possessing or Distributing Their Own Images
Strangely, a minor could theoretically be charged with possession of child pornography, just by distributing pictures of him or herself to others.
Penalties for Sexual Exploitation of a Minor
A minor can actually be convicted of sexual exploitation of another minor, which can mean a prison term of up to 10 years, and a conviction can carry a sentence that includes mandatory reporting to a sexual offender database.
High-Tech Options for High-Tech Problems
These situations were unthinkable just a few years ago, but for parents who are concerned about potential sexting issues, there are companies that offer heightened precautions. One company – Mobile Media Guard – offers a smartphone application that charges a modest monthly fee to offer parents remote access to all data, images, video and other materials that a teen access on his or her phone. The service also attempts to block questionable content.
What to Do if Your Child is Charged With a Sexting Crime
Just 20 years ago, teens snuck around, took photos of each other, and did all the same types of indiscrete things that today’s youths do. Back then, however, the evidence went away quickly. There was no permanent record, no electronic database, no permanent social media account to store it. Today, the police are eager to protect victims, and sometimes that eagerness leads to overzealous convictions.
If your child is facing a life-changing criminal charge that could destroy his or her future, you should immediately contact an experienced team of criminal defense lawyers who can fight to protect your child’s rights. Call Krause, Moorhead & Draisen, P.A. to speak with one of our attorneys today.
J. Kirkman Moorhead is Criminal Defense Attorney who practices in Anderson, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 24 years now. Mr. Moorhead believes in defending the accused. Learn more about his experience here.