As technology evolves faster every day, it becomes a double edged sword for both children and adults. As parents, the scariest aspect of their hormonal teenagers having full-access to digital devices is sexting. The laws are confusing, but the risks can be detrimental to their future. So where is the line between legal and illegal? What can be done to keep our kids safe and out of trouble? As lawyers at Sheffield and Lentine in Birmingham, we are coming across these situations more and more. Here’s what you need to know in order to stay informed:
- It’s a Criminal Offense
Even if both teenagers are over the age of 16 (the legal age of sexual consent in Alabama), sending nude photographs is a criminal offense. 13A-12-190 is the beginning of the Alabama code section that deals with possession with intent to disseminate obscene matter depicting persons under 17 years of age that reads:
VISUAL DEPICTION. A portrayal, representation, illustration, image, likeness, or other thing that creates a sensory impression, whether an original, duplicate, or reproduction.
The other issue is that EVERY SINGLE PICTURE is a separate crime; it even says the identity of the person is not required to be convicted. In other words, their face could be blurred out or the picture could only show the person from the neck down.
2) Both parties can be charged
The girl producing it can be charged. The boy receiving it can be charged. They can then be charged again for every single photo sent. On September 14, 2017, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in State v. EG that a minor can be charged with distribution of child pornography for taking and sending a picture of their intimate areas to another person. This becomes incredibly dangerous. There are many times where the DA’s office will contact someone with a slap on the wrist, or the police might let it go because it’s “kids being kids.” The problem is there are some parents that are not so forgiving and will push to have the boy charged, more often than not. We then have a situation where a kid is looking at registering as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years even if he’s granted youthful offender status. Being granted youthful offender status doesn’t protect you from Alabama’s Sex Offender law.
3) ACLU is working to relax the laws
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has explained in a letter to prosecutors in Washington that prosecutors can and should exercise their discretion to avoid treating teen sexting incidents the same as adult exploitation of children. The letter reads: “While the images may meet the literal definition of felony pornography charges, it is clear that child pronography laws are intesded to protect youth from exploitation and abuse by deterring and punishing dangerous sex predation, not to punish the youth for common, if unwise, adolescent conduct.
Our attorneys at Sheffield & Lentine have begun touring different high schools to warn of the risks of “sexting,” and advise parents to discuss with their children what’s at stake. Technology is still evolving, and it’s important that teenagers understand how to responsibly communicate, even throughout their hormonal urges.
For more questions, please contact us at:
205 N. 20th St., Suite 915
Birmingham, AL 35203-4705