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A Note to Parents About Sexting

The world is a much different place now than when I was a teenager over three decades ago. We didn’t have cell phones. I didn’t even have a cordless phone until I was in college, and at that time my parents still only had rotary phones and TVs without remote controls!

Now we have webcams and cell phones (all seem to have cameras and video recording capability). There is texting, instant messaging, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter, Tumblr and I’m sure a few dozen other apps that I never heard of before. It’s a scary time to be a parent of a teenager, and it’s just going to get scarier! Now we don’t just have to worry about car insurance, safe driving, and college tuition, we have to worry about a number of things that can land our kids in the juvenile court system, including “Sexting!” If you haven’t heard of it, sexting is the practice of sending indecent photographs by cell phone or the like. Sexually explicit activity between teenagers is no longer confined to the back seats of cars, but is instantaneous and available 24/7.

Sexting can lead to the viral spread of graphic images, and has resulted in embarrassment, bullying, suicides, but also criminal prosecution in the juvenile courts – including child pornography charges. It is not enough to warn our children that the internet is forever, and that images never disappear once posted online. Some recent developments in the law are important for parents to know and to share with their teens.

A case to be closely watched in the juvenile law arena is In re: C.S., which arises from the dismissal of charges against a female juvenile charged with Sexual Abuse of Children, Criminal Use of Communication Facility, and Dissemination of Explicit Sexual Material via Electronic Communication. The trial court’s opinion may be found here. The prosecution brought an Appeal to the Superior Court after the court dismissed the charges for constitutional reasons (vagueness). The case was subsequently certified the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for review, where it is still pending.

The sexting case involves the publication online of sexually explicit photographs of sexual acts between two consenting juveniles. C.S., a female juvenile, posted the sexually explicit photos to her Facebook page of two other children. L.C. and M.T., who were 16 and 17 years of age respectively. One of them shared the pictures with their friends. The purpose of the Facebook post was ostensibly to bully L.C., and neither L.C. nor M.T. were charged, but C.S. was charged with child pornography charges, which is the equivalent of a felony, and could have the potential of having C.S. labeled as a sex offender.

Shortly after this decision, Pennsylvania enacted a new law, Transmission of sexually explicit images by a minor, 18 Pa.C.S. § 6321, which grades the offense between a summary offense and a misdemeanor of the second degree. Children and parents both need to know the potential consequences of these actions. Moreover, while the juvenile court system is designed to rehabilitate and correct errant behavior, rather than to punish it, it is NOT a system to be navigated alone without legal representation.

~ Craig J. Fleischmann

A postscript: There are more cases being brought by law enforcement seeking to prosecute juveniles for sexting using child pornagraphy laws, including this recent headline from Virgina: "

In ‘sexting’ case, police want to take photo of teen’s erect genitalia, his lawyer says The Manassas Police issued a statement in response:

Categories: General, Juvenile Law