'Sexting' Can Have Serious Consequences

The time when a child first becomes aware of his or her own sexuality can be tricky; and more than ever before, adolescents today experience that initial intrigued along with constant connectedness with their peers through technology and blurred lines between the private and public sectors of the world. The result is an expression that was certainly not experienced by older generations: 'sexting', or sending and receiving text messages of a sexual nature, is now a common piece of young person's communication with others. While it may start out innocent enough, this behavior can quickly lead to legal trouble.

Sexting could turn into a problem, for example, if a young girl shares an explicit photo of herself with one other person, only to have it that one person send it out to all of his friends. When this happens, it can be considered a case of Child Pornography—a very serious criminal offense. However, it is questionable whether it should be handled the same way as other Child Pornography cases (as a scenario where an adult took unwelcome photographs of a child, for example, seems much more dangerous).

As it stands, there is a civil statute—the Illinois "sexting law"—that addresses this issue. The law itself is clearly outlined, stating that any individual "shall not distribute or disseminate an indecent visual depiction of another minor through the use of a computer or electronic communication device." Possible consequences vary, however; an adolescent charged with violating the rule could be given a penalty of supervision, counseling, and community service; or, the child could be charged under state pornography laws and receive a serious criminal conviction. It is up to the discretion of the State's Attorney to determine what is appropriate given the circumstances of the individual case.

Given that there is such a possible slippery slope from harmless 'sexting' to very serious Child Pornography, it is important that adolescents understand where to draw the line. Joshua Herman, a Peoria Lawyer, advised in his 2010 article about sexting that school districts ought to enact policies that address the issue and make students aware that possessing and disseminating explicit photos is both against school policy and a crime. As sharing photos because increasingly easy—to the point of being almost expected—it's increasingly important to be aware how to manage your social interactions while avoiding a criminal future.

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