Teen Sexting

Teen “Sexting” Laws In Pennsylvania

A common behavior in relationships today involves the use of technology as in sexting. Sexting is also a very common, and often unreported, sex crime. By definition sexting the sending of an erotic, explicit or pornographic photo or video through an electronic device, such as a cell phone, tablet or IPod. While some states across the nation have put laws into place specifically targeting teen sexting, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has not, and these actions are often covered legally under child pornography laws. These child pornography laws are normally used to punish adults harshly who solicit suggestive photographs from underage people, however in cases of teen to teen sexting, the sharing of these photographs can provide harsh penalties to young people. One instance of this is the case of 6 young teenagers who were facing felony child pornography charges after sharing an explicit photograph of one of their 13-year-old peers. The charges were ultimately dropped for the teens, however, but they had the potential to face harsh punishments and a serious blemish on their criminal records if convicted.

This trend of teen sexting has been on the rise in recent years in Pennsylvania, with 20% of teens admitting to sending nude or suggestive photographs of themselves using their cell phone or other electronic device. This means that 1 in every 5 teenagers has sent an explicit photo to another individual, typically another teen, and these instances can cause these teens to be in the position of facing serious charges and penalties.

When going through something as serious as a sex offense you need effective legal representation. Call the criminal defense lawyers at Jensen Bagnato, P.C.. Mr. Jensen and his staff have many years experience handling all types of sex crime cases in the Philadelphia area.

Teen Sexting And Prosecution

Teen sexting creates a complicated situation in terms of prosecution, as many individuals do agree that teens should not face the serious punishments that come along with child pornography due to a lapse in judgment caused by immaturity. Prosecutors across the state of Pennsylvania have struggled with determining whether teen sexting should be a criminal issue, or a domestic issue that should be taken care of in the home or at school, due to many of these text messages being sent from peer to peer rather than from a minor to an adult.

One aspect of teen sexting that complicates the issue further is the inclusion of cyber-bullying. If a young girl sends a suggestive photograph of herself to her boyfriend or crush, and he shares that photo with his friends, who in turn share it with their friend who places it on the internet, the act of sending a simple photograph can turn into a damaging situation. Not only will a nude photo of an underage girl now be on the internet for child pornographers and predators to see, but she must then live with the consequences of public humiliation and damage to her reputation. Cases of young people harming themselves have risen with the popularity of teen sexting, and many of these cases stem from cyber-bullying situations involving personal photos being posted to the internet.

Pennsylvania Child Pornography Laws

Teen sexting, even if the photos are sent to a peer rather than an adult, is covered legally under current Pennsylvania child pornography laws. Child pornography laws in the state consider child pornography to be:

  • Possessing a sexually explicit photo or video of a person under the age of 18
  • Distributing a sexually explicit photo or video of a person under the age of 18
  • Enticing or coercing a person under the age of 18 to take suggestive photos or videos
  • Production of sexually explicit photos or videos of someone under 18

Under these guidelines, teen sexting would qualify as child pornography in the state of Pennsylvania, no matter the age of the recipient as long as the photo shows a person under the age of 18. Because a minor is considered to be legally unable to give consent for such photographs, whether they wanted these photographs to go to the recipient does not matter in a child pornography case.

To be brought up on child pornography distribution charges related to a sexting incident, it must be proven that the person was acting with lascivious intent. By definition, lascivious intent means that the defendant was receiving sexual gratification from the photographs or video, or sending the material to others for their sexual gratification. If a person, instead, shares the photo for humiliation purposes, rather than sexual purposes, they cannot face distribution charges but may face possession charges instead.

Depending on the specific circumstances revolving around the incident, sexting may also be considered a crime under federal law as well as Pennsylvania state law. The PROTECT Act of 2003, or the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act, states that it is illegal for any person to receive, possess, create, or distribute images or other visual material containing a minor in a sexually explicit or suggestive pose. Not only could the senders and receivers of such images find themselves facing criminal charges, but the parents of the minor may as well under the PROTECT Act.

However, the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act states that minors that are involved in crimes are to be prosecuted in state, rather than federal, courts, causing minor to minor sexting to be a state issue. If a minor sends a sexually explicit photo of his or herself to another minor, under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act, they will not face federal charges.

Child Pornography Charges And Teen Sexting

Pennsylvania treats child porn charges very seriously. They come with very severe legal penalties that rise in severity with each subsequent offense. If a defendant is convicted of possessing child pornography, they may lengthy prison terms as well as severe fines.

Convincing, coercing or manipulating a minor to make sexually suggestive photographs or video involves even harsher penalties than possession. If a person is convicted of coercion related to child pornography they can expect to spend between up to 20 years in prison, as well as a fine up to $50,000.

Anyone convicted of child pornography, whether it is a first or subsequent offense, will also face mandatory sex offender registration with the Pennsylvania Sex Offender Registry. This registry is a database comprised of the names, addresses, and other personal information of Pennsylvania sex offenders, and this information may be searchable to the public or police only. Being a registered sex offender will make your life incredibly difficult and certain life tasks such as finding employment or obtaining housing, will become extremely difficult.

Philadelphia Sex Crime Defense Attorneys

If you are facing any type of sex crime charge(s) in the Philadelphia area it is always important that the proper legal representation be sought. Experienced Philadelphia attorneys, like those at The Law Office of Erik B. Jensen, will be able to answer any and all questions regarding a particular case, and provide their clients with the best advice and representation possible to ensure a fair trial. Call them today at (215) 547-4700 for a free initial consultation.