Most people have heard the term sexting by now. It’s a play-on-words, combining “sex” and “texting” to refer to sending and receiving lewd or suggestive images via smart phone or another electronic device. When sexting occurs between two consenting adults, no criminal offense is committed. However, when one or more of the parties involved is a minor, it’s an entirely different story. Criminal charges may even apply when both parties are under age.
Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld a conviction for sexting-related child pornography charges. At first glance, that statement may not seem particularly unusual, but the details surrounding the case are anything but usual. At the time of the incident, the defendant was a minor. He also has Asperger’s syndrome, and the incriminating sext was a photo he sent of himself to an adult woman.
In 2013, the then 17-year-old boy texted a picture of his penis to a 22-year old woman. The photo was accompanied by explicit, and unsolicited, statements. The woman reported the texts and several harassing phone calls to the local Sheriff’s Office, and the boy was subsequently charged with distribution of child pornography, a felony. A MA defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with a crime.
It is illegal to deal in any depiction of a child engaged in conduct that is deemed sexually explicit. Washington state law defines sexually explicit conduct as anything that depicts “genitals or unclothed pubic or rectal areas of any minor, or the unclothed breast of a female minor, for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer.”
“Subjecting of all Children to Felony Prosecution”
The state supreme court ruled that to “destroy the blight of child pornography everywhere, from production of the images to commercial gain” requires legislation that also pertains to minors who take explicit photos of themselves. Critics worry that, in the future, similar rulings will be extended to teens who consensually sext each other, and that this interpretation of the law will lead to the “subjecting of all children to felony prosecution.”
In fact, consensual teens have already been criminally prosecuted for their sexts. In 2015, a Colorado school found itself at the center of a major scandal. Dozens of students were sending lewd texts, many of which appeared to have been taken at the school. George Welsh, Superintendent of the scandalized Canon City Schools, was not surprised. “There isn’t a school in the United States probably at this point that hasn’t at some point dealt with the issue of sexting,” said Welsh. A Boston criminal defense lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with any type of crime.
The debate over criminalizing sexting focuses on the real purpose of child pornography laws, to protect children from unsavory adults. But if sexting between two consenting teens turns into a crime, what message are we sending? According to David Ball, law professor at Santa Clara University in CA, such rulings go against the basic tenets of criminal law. “You can’t be an accomplice to an act that has you as the victim,” said Ball, referring to two teens who were both charged with endangering a child. They also happened to be the victims in each others’ cases. Continue reading