Is it right to prosecute young people for teen-to-teen ‘sexting’?

Young people can be accused of possession or distribution of child pornography for taking sexually explicit pictures or videos of themselves and sending the images to other teens. A teenager could also face child pornography charges for acquiring a sexually explicit image of a peer and distributing that image to someone else. In such cases, it is extremely important to distinguish between appropriate legal action and overzealous prosecution.

One case that made national headlines involved teenagers who were ordered by a district attorney to attend classes on sexual behavior after the teens were accused of sexting. The district attorney said that the teens would be prosecuted for creating child pornography if they didn’t attend the classes. In one of our articles, we discussed the details of the case, which was heard by a federal appellate court.

Normally, when images of child pornography are obtained by authorities, the children in the images are regarded as victims, not pornographers. Still, teenagers who create or distribute sexually explicit images of themselves or other young people can face serious, long-term consequences. For an 18-year-old accused of making pornography with a younger boyfriend or girlfriend, the potential penalties are even more severe.

With the proliferation of smartphones and other electronic devices, more sexting-related charges against teens are likely to follow. To protect their rights and future, teenagers facing such allegations should have skilled legal counsel with experience in handling juvenile cases.