In Florida, a 16-year-old girl and her 17-year-old boyfriend were both convicted under child pornography laws after taking intimate nude photos of themselves.Closer to home, Thurston County prosecutors initially charged 13- and 14-year-olds with felony distribution of child pornography after a sexting incident in a Lacey middle school. In May 2017, the Washington Supreme Court heard argument in a case that challenges whether a minor can be prosecuted under child pornography laws for taking and sending a picture of himself.Sexting involves the practice of creating, sending and/or posting sexually suggestive images or video via mobile phone, email, or over the Internet. More than one in three young adults between the age of 18-24 have sexted, and one in four teenagers have done the same. Despite widespread and oftentimes breathless media coverage of teenage sexting stories, it is hardly confined to the under-30 crowd.The AARP Monthly magazine recently updated , advising tech-competent seniors to try sexting as a way to spice up the over-50 love life--complete with a “Sexting 101” section. Most sexting is, by itself, consensual, and intended to be innocuous.Take, for example, the scenario where a minor sends a nude picture to his or her partner and the partner later forwards the image to friends and classmates after the couple breaks up.The second sender is clearly the bad actor, but the law treats everyone involved the same, and both can be convicted of a felony.
_____Updated June 2017 Sexting is a new twist on the timeless desire of teens and adults to engage in sexual expression.
The frightening reality, however, is that our current child pornography laws coupled with modern technology have the potential to create a sex offender registry populated with the children it was intended to protect and a generation of teenagers who will reach the age of majority already convicted as child sex offenders.
This is not what child pornography laws were meant for, and the time has come to address the issue rationally and reasonably, before it is too late.
The court ruled that the statutory language allowed the charges, and deferred to the way the Legislature has written the law.
Unfortunately, this means that, unless the Legislature amends the statute, any minor involved in sexting continues to be at risk of felony charges.