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Sexting Can Cause Major Legal Issues

Several recent news stories have brought public attention to a disturbing new practice among many adolescents that has been dubbed "sexting." Generally, the photos are self-portraits shot by teenagers of themselves in the nude and sent to other teens, often as a joke, or to get a date or hookup with someone to whom they are attracted.

Sexting is a general description that is used to describe the act of sending sexually explicit photos by cell phones and it may land teens in serious legal trouble. Officials across the country are warning, in the wake of recent sexting scandals, that teens and their parents should be aware of the legal consequences of sexting. Some of the photos that are found when examining cell phones that have been used for sexting could qualify as child pornography, a felony in many states.

Many teens have thought that sexting is just a mischievous, fun game, without realizing that this was committing a crime. Authorities are concerned that the sexting issue has almost hit a tipping point within the public concern. They say that it has raised an array of practical questions about how police and prosecutors should respond and what the long-term fallout could be for children and teens involved in sexting.

The problem is that child porn laws never contemplated the act of "children sharing images of themselves," and youthful sexters have little concept of their actions as a crime. The laws are completely out of touch with the technology that is now available as anyone with a cell phone and a computer has the availability and the ease to become photographer and distributor.

Law enforcement officials often report seeing the shock on the faces of the teens that are apprehended for sexting. If these police officials are to be believed, sexters are often "the good kids" with strong grades and no criminal history. They report that most of such youngsters send photos without realizing that they could be widely circulated or posted on the Internet in view of strangers, predators and potential colleges and employers. However officials warn that landing on a sex offender registry is possible for those prosecuted coupled with a record and possible jail time the legal ramifications for sexting could derail a young person's dreams.

While some school officials and parents are eager to dismiss the practice as "not in my school or my kid" studies show that it has become widespread among teens across the country. Studies have shown that an increasing number of teens are participating in sexting and increasingly, teens are facing unexpected consequences.

In Greensburg, Pennsylvania, for example, three girls, all fourteen or fifteen years old, have been charged with manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography for sending nude photos of themselves to male classmates. The three boys, who received the photos, all sixteen or seventeen years old, face charges of possession. These are all felony charges that result in stiff legal penalties. Similar cases are now proceeding in Michigan, Ohio, Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. In some cases, the young people who are involved are being charged with felonies, and if convicted, they may have to register as sex offenders for ten or twenty years.

Many experts and non-experts alike question whether the courts are the appropriate place for sexting to be dealt with. While child pornography laws were intended to protect children from sexual abuse by adults they are now being used against children who often think they are just being brash or sexy, but are not intending to be predatory.

Whatever your feelings are about sexting, the bottom line is this-until the law changes your child or teen who participates in sexting could find themselves dealing with serious legal trouble and life changing consequences.