Sexting

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The News and Observer has had several interesting criminal justice articles over the past few days — including one about the great potted plant caper, available here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2932/story/1394388.html — but the one that struck me the most was this one, about “sexting”: http://www.newsobserver.com/1595/story/1393616.html.

Apparently, posting naked pictures of oneself on Myspace is soooooooo 2008.  Kids who are really up-to-date simply snap pornographic pictures of themselves using their cell phones’ cameras, and then send the pictures out via text message, hence, “sexting.”  (Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would be proud.)  According to the article, sometimes “sexting” is meant to be flirtatious, and sometimes it is meant to harrass, but either way it is getting increasing attention from the police.  One boy in Indiana has been charged with distributing obscenity for sending a photograph of his gentials to several female classmates, and another boy has been charged with a child pornography offense based on similar conduct.  In Pennsylvania, three girls who sent racy pictures of themselves, and four boys who received them, were charged with child pornography offenses, though most have pled guilty to lesser charges.  As you might imagine, there is a heated debate about whether criminal prosecutions are an appropriate response to “sexting,” with some arguing that a strong message needs to be sent to children, and others arguing that this type of conduct is best addressed by the kids, their parents, and perhaps their schools.  

I am sure that if kids in Indiana and Pennsylvania are doing this, then kids in North Carolina are, too.  Does anyone know of any cases like this?  If so, what were the charges?  There seem to be several possibilities, including dissemination of obscenity, G.S. 14-190.1, and preparation of obscene photographs, G.S. 14-190.5.  Perhaps one could even charge first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, G.S. 14-190.16, a Class C felony that takes place when one “[u]ses, employs, induces . . . or facilitates a minor to engage in . . . sexual activity for . . . the purpose of producing material that contains a visual representation depicting this activity.”  “Sexual activity” includes the lascivious exhibition of genitals, so at least some “sexting” would be covered if the statute allows one to be prosecuted for “using” oneself to produce the prohibited material.

We live in a world where just about anything can be distributed to just about anyone instantaneously.  This blog is one piece of that world, and “sexting” is another.  Presumably, the criminal justice issues surrounding digital distribution will continue to get thornier, and more frequent, as the relentless march of technology continues.

6 comments on “Sexting

  1. My high school senior son, while he has not been on the sending or receiving end of this new phenomenom, has some classmates who have. I think it is important, given the current climate of registering sex offenders, that the Attorney General’s office disseminate information about the seriousness of this issue to educators and parents. Otherwise, we may end up with an entire generation of registered sex offenders.

  2. The Prosecutor in McDowell County charged dissemination of obscenity, G.S. 14-190.1, when an older female (20’s) sent a younger male (over 16 but under 20) a nude picture via cell phone. The case plead to a lesser charge, although I can’t remember what (wasn’t my case). I didn’t agree with the charge because I don’t understand how such behavior can be considered dissemination. To me it is similar to giving another a hard-copy photo of oneself nude. I am not sure such welcome — assuming they are welcome — exchanges can be considered dissemination of obscenity.

  3. 16yo boy is arrested for downloading nude pics of young girls and charged with distribution of pornography and bail set at $60K. Pics were apparently shared through Limewire (giving peers access to his media). What can this boy expect? Certianly isn’t a sexual predator.

  4. […] by teens. Despite growing attention to the issue in NC (see Jeff Welty’s 2009 blog post on sexting), lawmakers have not yet enacted a law that specifically addresses teen sexting. As a result, teens […]

  5. […] by teens. Despite growing attention to the issue in NC (see Jeff Welty’s 2009 blog post on sexting), lawmakers have not yet enacted a law that specifically addresses teen sexting. As a result, teens […]

  6. […] teenagers receiving adult charges for sexting. Jeff Welty, from a University of North Carolina’s School of Government, mentioned that Indiana and Pennsylvania had identical cases in 2009. Likewise, several […]

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