Lawmakers have the tough job of adjusting legislation as the state, country, and world change. New technology, cultural shifts, and other factors may make old laws useless – or even dangerous. If lawmakers do not address outdated rules, they could be putting a group of people at risk for incarceration and harsh penalties.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening right now in North Carolina. Teens are at risk of harsh and unfairly high penalties due to a recent trend in technology. If you have a teenager, you have to educate them on the dangers and criminal consequences of sexting.
What Is Sexting under North Carolina Law?
“Sexting” refers to sending sexually explicit messages through text or mobile apps. These messages could be words, images, or videos, and teens have gotten into trouble for all three. This trend has come about with the development of apps and the popularity of smartphones, and if you think your teen isn’t doing it, think again – early studies have revealed that up to 40% of teens have sent “sexts.”
Of course, this is not just a trend among teens. Many adults have also jumped onto the sexting bandwagon.
However, while adult sexting is completely legal, due to laws regarding child pornography and sexual conduct involving minors, teen sexting may be viewed as a serious crime with serious penalties.
How Current NC Laws Put Teens at Risk for Sexting
Quite simply, photos and videos of teens engaged in sexual conduct are considered child pornography. Even though the images are sent with the consent of the teenagers, and sent to other teens within their age group, the laws in North Carolina about child pornography still cover sexts.
Could these laws – and the criminal punishments for child pornography – affect North Carolina teens who are ignorant to these laws? They already have.
In 2015, two teenagers in North Carolina were charged with felony child pornography in just such a situation. The two teenagers were dating and had exchanged nude selfies. At the time that they sent the selfies, they were 16 years old.
This charge is a class H felony. The teens faced up to 25 months behind bars in addition to having to register as sex offenders if convicted.
So, what happened to them? They took a plea deal. Both defendants plead guilty to the lesser charge of disseminating harmful material to minors (a misdemeanor crime in North Carolina). A judge sentenced both defendants to probation. Once their sentence was over, the charges were dismissed.
Those North Carolina teens were lucky, but not every sexting charge has had a similar ending. In 2009, an 18-year-old boy appealed his conviction to the Iowa Supreme Court after he sent an explicit photo of himself to a 14-year old girl. The girl had repeatedly asked for the photo. Despite the teenager’s consent, the 18-year-old boy still had to register a sex offender.
Luckily, the North Carolina teens didn’t have to face the humiliation and the roadblocks that come with a place on the sex offender registry. However, they still had to face penalties for what was a consensual act between two people in a romantic relationship.
Should teens have to go through the embarrassment of an arrest, criminal charges, and heading to court – all over a naked selfie? Should they face felony charges for creating and distributing explicit photos that they choose to create of their own bodies? Is it fair for teenagers to face adult punishments, like sex offender registration, when their brains and decision-making skills are still developing?
Many state lawmakers say no.
Next Steps with NC Teen Sexting
At least 20 states have passed some sort of legislation that addresses consensual sexting among teenagers and protects juveniles from harsh child pornography charges. North Carolina, however, has not budged. Teens can still be charged for sending sexts, even if the messages were sent with both parties’ consent.
Talk to your teen about sexting. Studies on sexting show that a majority of teenagers and young adults do not understand or know that sexting may be considered a criminal act. While laws in North Carolina still put “sexters” at risk for criminal charges, tell your teenagers to use their Snapchats for sending clothed selfies and cute pictures of their dogs.
Has your teen been charged with similar criminal activity? Talk to a lawyer immediately. You will need a serious defense strategy to keep your child off of the sex offender registry.
Want to protect your teen? Reach out to a local representative. Ask about what state lawmakers intend to do to address the issue of sexting and current child pornography laws. It’s not the most comfortable conversation to have with a lawmaker, but it’s one that could protect your teen – and future teens – from an unfair lifetime sentence on the sex offender registry.