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Can sexting make you a sex offender?

What do you get when you combine cameras and text messages? The answer, it appears, is sexting. Sexting is everywhere. And it can present real dangers for those who aren’t careful.

Fox news recently reported the results of a sexting survey. It found that people of all ages had sent nude photos of themselves via texts and other instant messages. But the numbers rose sharply as the ages dropped. According to the study, 37% of adults ages 22 to 38 had sexted. So had 40% of everyone ages 18 to 22. What about teens? The survey didn’t say.

When sexting becomes a crime

The most likely reason that Fox didn’t report on the number of teens who had sexted is because teen sexting is often a crime. In Indiana, teen sexting falls under the law for child exploitation and child pornography.

Among other things, the law says that it is illegal for anyone ages 18 and older to:

  • Create or distribute an image of anyone under 18 that includes the genitals or female nipple
  • Possess such an image

In other words, it is illegal for adults to send nude pictures to teens or to possess nude photos of them.

Where things get a bit trickier

The law also offers some exemptions—or “defenses”—that apply. One defense applies to defendants who were under the age of 18 when they allegedly committed their offenses. Another applies to school employees. Yet another applies to younger people who sext each other as part of their ongoing relationship.

That exception is commonly known as the “Romeo and Juliet” defense, and it applies when:

  • The defendant is no more than 4 years older than the person who sent or received the image
  • Both parties are involved in a dating relationship
  • Both parties accept the use of the image
  • The image was sent by and kept on a cellphone, social networking site or other wireless or cellular device

There are some cases in which this defense doesn’t apply. But when it does, it can prevent teens or other young people from being labeled as sex offenders for sending each other intimate images.

Defending yourself against charges

Everything changes for teens when they hit age 18. The laws change. You may need to change old habits. And if you break up with someone who’s still not 18, you may need to delete those old sexts.

At Kammen & Moudy, our attorneys know how a conviction for child exploitation or pornography can destroy someone’s future. That’s why we work hard to understand all the facts. And we make sure our clients understand their rights, their cases and their options.

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