Take Pictures With Santa School Photos Students 5 Years Old The Legal Ramifications of Sexting

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The Legal Ramifications of Sexting

As advances in technology continue to outpace advances in law, state legislators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges must find the best way to apply existing law to the problems raised by new technology.

This is certainly true in cases of sexting, where sexually explicit photos or videos are sent via text messages to others’ cell phones. The practice is prevalent in schools across the country as teenagers send photos of themselves and forward sexual images of others to friends and strangers alike. Sexting can involve teenagers sending violent photos to their boyfriends or girlfriends. However, sometimes images may be taken without the person’s knowledge or shared with others without their consent, leading to humiliation and embarrassment once friends, classmates and family view the material.

The problem with sending this type of material over mobile phones is that the image or video can be difficult to contain once sent. Once one person receives it, they can forward the material to others. Pictures can be downloaded to home computers and sent by e-mail or posted on Internet sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Even if a teenager only intended to send a sexually suggestive image to a friend, it could quickly spread to half the school – or thousands of others, with the click of a mouse.

To make matters worse, once these images get out there may be no way to destroy them. Even just deleting photos from your mobile phone or computer does not guarantee that the images are gone forever.

Sexting and Massachusetts Pornography Laws

There are currently no laws in Massachusetts that specifically criminalize sexting. If sexually explicit material sent via text message involves a child under the age of 18, the conduct may be prosecuted under state child pornography laws. Below is a brief overview of these laws:

MGLA 272 § 28 – Matter harmful to minors, dissemination; property

  • Cannot send or possess with intent to send material deemed “harmful” to minors
  • Up to 5 years in prison or 2.5 years in prison
  • Fine of $1,000 to $10,000 for the first offense

MGLA 272 §29A – Posing or exposing a child in a state of nudity or sexual behavior

  • May not knowingly recruit, coerce, solicit, entice, procure, use, cause, encourage or permit anyone under the age of 18 to be photographed nude, partially nude or in a sexual act
  • 10-20 years in prison
  • Fined $10,000-$50,000

MGLA 272 §29B – Dissemination of visual material of a child in a state of nudity or sexual behavior

  • You may not knowingly share, post, provide, or otherwise disseminate photos, videos, or other images that depict a person under the age of 18 nude, partially nude, or engaged in other sexual behavior
  • He cannot knowingly possess these materials with the intention of sharing them with others
  • 10-20 years in prison
  • Fined $10,000-$50,000

MGLA 272 §29C – Knowing purchase or possession of visual material of a child depicting sexual behavior

  • May not knowingly purchase or possess a photograph, video or other reproduction (including images stored on a computer) of anyone under the age of 18 nude, partially nude, in a sexual context, or engaged in any type of sexual conduct or “indecent exhibition”
  • Up to 5 years in prison or 2.5 years in prison
  • Fine $1000-$10000 for first offense

Under state law, a conviction for any of these crimes is a felony. There are no offense charges for child pornography. Additionally, child pornography offenses are sex crimes, so anyone convicted of child pornography charges must also register as a sex offender for 20 years after conviction.

  • Other possible consequences include:
  • School punishment, including suspension and expulsion
  • Denial of admission to college
  • Ineligibility for student financial aid
  • Employment restrictions
  • Restrictions on where you live

The consent of a minor is not a valid defense to these charges. This means that even if a teenager knowingly took a picture, sent a picture or agreed to have a picture taken, it does not protect the person who took and/or received the picture from prosecution. Massachusetts law specifically states that minors are deemed incapable of consenting to sexually explicit photographs being taken.

State pornography laws were not written to punish teenage sexting behavior. While local prosecutors can decide whether to file child pornography charges for sexting, they may feel pressured by victims’ parents to file criminal charges. Parents also have the option of asking the school board for remedial action, but some may feel that this is not punishment enough.

Until the law catches up with technology and an adequate statutory penalty for sexting is defined under state law, it is imperative that teens fully understand and appreciate the seriousness of the consequences of engaging in sexting. A child pornography conviction and the stigma society attaches to such a conviction can negatively impact a teenager’s life well into adulthood.

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