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Child pornography laws & the difficult gray area of teen sexting


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As most everyone knows, criminal charges related to child pornography are incredibly serious. Individuals convicted of producing, disseminating or being in possession of child pornography may face decades in prison followed by registration as a sex offender.

Americans have deemed such consequences appropriate because child pornography typically causes great harm (psychological and otherwise) to the minor victims involved. But what about child pornography cases in which the victims are also the defendants? This is one of the vexing problems created by teen sexting.

It has become quite common for teenagers in relationships to take nude or semi-nude selfies and send them to one another. In some cases, when the pictures are discovered, prosecutors charge the teenagers with creating/disseminating/possessing child pornography. Someone who is 16 years old may be treated like a minor victim when appearing in the selfie she took. At the same time, however, she may also be treated like an adult and prosecuted as such. How can the same person be both the victim and the perpetrator?

One of the reasons for this odd problem is that many states do not have child pornography laws that specifically address sexting. Because of this, teens who are prosecuted for the behavior are charged under laws that may not adequately address the complexities of the situation.

To be sure, there are many non-criminal reasons why sexting is a bad idea for teenagers, including the risk that the pictures could easily be shared with third parties or put online. But does it make sense to punish teenagers with criminal consequences that could potentially cause more damage than the “crime” itself?

Thankfully, most law enforcement agencies try to find less heavy-handed solutions to the problem of teen sexting. But that doesn’t mean leniency is applied uniformly in all cases. If your teenage son or daughter is facing legal trouble related to sexting, please seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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