A pretty amazing figure released by an organization devoted to reducing teen pregnancy found that twenty percent of all teenagers have sent nude or semi-nude photographs or videos of themselves to others.Additionally, thirty-nine percent of teenagers admit to having sent sexually suggestive messages.
So what is sexting?
Sexting is a familiar term to most young people and is generally defined as the act of sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photos, or images via cell phone, computer or other digital device. Sexting can occur among all age groups, but is more common among young adults.
Is sexting illegal?
There are actually two answers to this question. The answer for adults is no, or at least, not yet. Tennessee has not yet passed any laws that infringe on the ability of consenting adults to send explicit electronic messages to one another. The problem arises when one sends or receives nude images to or from a minor.
What about sexting among minors?
If an adult sends or receives sexually explicit images to or from a minor that adult has clearly broken the law and will be charged with a felony sex crime.The tricky cases that are frequently giving law enforcement officials headaches these days occur when one minor is caught creating, distributing, or possessing a sexually explicit image of another minor. The problem is that because Tennessee has no criminal statute on point, that minor could be charged under the state’s child pornography statutes. Many people would be stunned to learn that if the minor is convicted of such a felony they will generally be required to register as a sex offender.
What are the penalties?
Under Tennessee law it is a felony to knowingly posses any material of a minor engaged in a sexual act. Minors found to be sexting could face separate felony convictions for possession, distribution and creation of such images. These crimes come with up to 30 years behind bars for creating pornographic images, 15 years for distributing them and 12 years in jail for possessing child porn. Finally, sex crime convictions come with fines of up to$25,000 per offense and require that the person register as a sex offender, an especially terrible punishment that will follow you for life.
What about sexting in school?
Given the murky legal waters surrounding sexting, some school officials have taken the matter into their own hands. For instance, officials in Cleveland, TN have banned sexting outright. The Cleveland City School Board altered their policy regarding use of phones in school, adding language that said if pornographic pictures were found on school property it would result in suspension or expulsion. The school went a step further and said that even those sexting events that occur off campus can be subject to review by school officials to determine if harassment was involved. If officials believe that a minor was exploited the matter will be turned over to law enforcement authorities for criminal prosecution.