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Could a teenager be charged with a crime for sexting?

Most people understand sexting to be the sending or receiving of sexually explicit messages through electronic methods, such as text message or email. When consensual adults send these types of messages for noncommercial use, it is generally acceptable. In contrast, when these messages involve images of children under the age of 18, people can face prosecution and conviction of serious crimes. Unfortunately, teenagers can also face prosecution for sending and receiving these messages, even when consensual.

In Missouri, there are no specific laws that target teens with regard to these types of crimes. Instead, prosecutors rely on the existing child pornography laws. These laws cover crimes constituting of nude and suggestive depiction of a child (younger than 18 years old) or a child engaged in a sexual act. Sending or receiving these images is a crime. Each image also carries a separate criminal charge.

Additionally, law enforcement can charge both the person who distributes child pornography and the person who receives it. If a teenager receives an image of a young person, then sends it to friends, he or she could face both criminal charges of distribution and possession of the image.

What parents need to know

Teenagers throughout the ages have experimented sexually, but never before have the consequences of these actions been so high. As part of the birds and bees talk, parents need to speak to their teenagers about sexting and the serious repercussions that can result. It might be an awkward conversation, but talking to your teen now could prevent finding the police at your door one evening with an arrest warrant. Teenagers need education about the dangers of their actions, especially in the age of cell phones and the use of many other devices, because criminal charges, arrests and convictions can affect them for the rest of their lives.

A teenager should not have to face penalties for mistakes made out of a lack of information. If your child ever faces charges of a crime related to cell phone use because of inappropriate or promiscuous behavior, as a parent, you should make sure you have an experienced advocate protecting his or her rights through the legal process.

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