U.S. Sexting Laws and Regulations

The map below and the subsequent pages summarize sexting-related laws that exist, or are pending legislation, throughout the United States. For more information mouse-over the map or select a state from the list on the right below.

South Carolina - Currently, in the State of South Carolina anyone, regardless of age, who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, will generally be required to register as a sex offender. However, there is proposed legislation that seeks to reduce the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor for children between the ages of 12 and 17. Hawaii - Currently, the State of Hawaii can prosecute individuals -- regardless of age -- who create, distribute or possess an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act under the State’s child pornography laws. However, the Hawaii State Legislature has recently proposed legislation that would make sexting between minors a misdemeanor crime but a felony if one of the individuals caught sexting was an adult. Alaska - Currently, Alaska could prosecute individuals, regardless of age, who are caught promoting, distributing or possessing sexually explicit images of a minor under the State’s child pornography laws. However, the Alaska state legislature has recently proposed legislation that would lighten the punishment for individuals at least 16 years old who are engaged in sexting. Minors under the age of 16 who are caught distributing sexually explicit images of themselves will not be prosecuted under the statute. Florida - Effective of October 1, 2011, any minor who is caught sending, possessing, or creating nude images of a minor can be charged with a non-criminal violation for their first offence and subject to a $60 fine or 8 hours of community service as well as required to attend training or instructional classes on the dangers of sexting. Georgia - Currently, sexting falls under the State of Georgia’s child pornography laws. In general, a teenager, who creates, distributes or possesses a sexually explicit image, could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts and circumstances. If convicted for a felony, the sentence could be up to 20 years in prison, and the teenager’s name would appear on Georgia's sex offender registry for at least 15 years. Alabama - The State of Alabama does not have a specific sexting statute. Teenagers caught sending or receiving explicit images of a minor, including images of themselves, could be prosecuted under the States child pornography laws, obscenity laws or material harmful to minor’s law. If convicted under Alabama law, an individual will generally need to register as a sex offender. North Carolina - The State of North Carolina does not have a specific statute to address sexting. Therefore, anyone, including minors, caught sending, receiving or taking an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act can be prosecuted under the States’ child pornography laws. If convicted, the individual could receive jail time, and will generally need to register as a sex offender. Tennessee - Currently, in Tennessee anyone - regardless of age - who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, will generally be required to register as a sex offender. Rhode Island - Rhode Island recently passed a law making sexting illegal between minors. Under the new law, minors will be charged with an offense in State Family Court. Minors who possess or distribute sexually explicit images of a minor (other than themselves), however, can still be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws. Connecticut - As of November 1, 2010, minors who are caught sexting will not be subject to felony charges under the State of Connecticut child pornography laws, but rather will be charged with a misdemeanor. If the minor is convicted he or she could still face up to 1 year in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,000. Massachusetts - Currently, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts any person who creates, distributes or possesses a sexually explicit image of a minor is committing a crime and is subject to prosecution under the State’s child pornography laws. The Commonwealth did try to pass strong sexting laws under the Commonwealth’s obscenity laws but such law was ruled by a federal judge to be over broad and issued an injunction to prevent the Commonwealth from enforcing the law. Maine - In general, under Maine law anyone - regardless of age - who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, may serve up to 10 years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender. New Hampshire - Currently, under New Hampshire law, an individual who possesses a sexually explicit image of a minor can be charged with possession of child pornography. If the individual possessing the image is a minor, he or she would be subject to juvenile delinquency proceedings; if he or she is an adult, then criminal proceedings would result. Vermont - Minors who are caught sending explicit images of themselves, will be declared delinquent in family court, if it is the minor’s first offense, and will be sent to a diversion program. Under the law a minor will not have to register as a sex offender. All records can be expunged when the minor reaches 18 years of age. New York - Anyone who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State of New York’s child pornography laws and if convicted, will generally need to register as a sex offender. In June of 2011, legislators proposed a new law that would address teenage sexting. In general, the law would allow first time offenders to avoid jail time and there would not be a requirement to register as a sex offender. New Jersey - New Jersey recently passed legislation that allows minors, who engage in sexting, to avoid prosecution under the State of New Jersey’s child pornography laws the first time they get caught. Under the new law, juveniles caught using their cell phones to send sexually explicit images will be required to attend a State sponsored educational program designed to educate the juveniles about the dangers of sending sexually explicit images. Pennsylvania - Pennsylvania lawmakers have proposed a law making sexting between minors a second-degree misdemeanor. First-time offenders would be subject to a summary charge, that would not be on their permanent record but the minor would be required to forfeit their electronic devices. Until the proposed legislation becomes law, minors may still be prosecuted under the Commonwealth’s child pornography laws and if convicted, could receive jail time and may need to register as a sex offender. Delaware - Currently, Delaware could prosecute individuals, regardless of age, who are caught creating, distributing or possessing sexually explicit images of a minor under the State’s child pornography laws. Maryland - The State of Maryland could prosecute individuals, regardless of age, who are caught creating, distributing or possessing sexually explicit images of a minor under the State’s child pornography laws. If convicted, individuals will generally be required to register as a sex offender. West Virginia - In the State of West Virginia anyone (including a minor) who creates, distributes or possesses an image of minor engaged in a sexually explicit action may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, will generally serve jail time and will need to register as a sex offender. Virginia - Currently, the Commonwealth of Virginia could prosecute individuals, regardless of age, who are caught creating, distributing or possessing sexually explicit images of a minor under the Commonwealth’s child pornography laws. Each action (creation, distribution, and possession) are independent of each other and can result in up to 3 separate felony charges. If convicted, individuals will generally be required to register as a sex offender. Kentucky - The Commonwealth of Kentucky does not a have a specific statute for sexting offenses. Anyone (including a minor) who creates, distributes or possesses an image of minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct may be prosecuted under the Commonwealth’s child pornography laws and if convicted, could receive jail time and will generally need to register as a sex offender. Ohio - Currently, a minor who is caught creating, distributing or possessing a sexually explicit image of a minor could be prosecuted under the State of Ohio’s child pornography laws and if convicted, required to register as a sex offender. There is proposed legislation that would reduce the severity of the crime for minors caught sexting to a misdemeanor and no requirement to register as a sex offender. Michigan - Michigan does not currently have a statute that specifically addresses sexting. Therefore, in the State of Michigan anyone who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit conduct may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and, if convicted, will generally serve time in prison and will be required to register as a sex offender. Wyoming - Wyoming does not currently have a separate statute that addresses sexting between minors. In general, the State of Wyoming can prosecute individuals -regardless of age -who create, distribute or possess an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act under the State’s child pornography laws. If convicted, the individual will generally be required to register as a sex offender. Montana - The State of Montana does not have a separate statute for sexting crimes. In general, under Montana law anyone (including a minor) who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, may serve a life sentence or up to 100 years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender. Idaho - The State of Idaho does not have a separate statute to address sexting crimes. Therefore, under Idaho law anyone who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, may serve up to 30 years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender. Washington - Currently, Washington State does not a have a specific statute for sexting offenses. In general, anyone, regardless of age, who produces, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, may be incarcerated and will generally be required to register as a sex offender. Texas - Effective September 1, 2011, a minor caught sexting in Texas can be charged with a misdemeanor. However, if a minor is caught, the minor and one of his or her parents will be required to take a State sponsored sexting education class. Under the bill the minor’s conviction can be expunged upon the minor turning 18. California - Under California law, individuals who distribute, possess or produce a sexually explicit image of a minor could be charged under the State’s child pornography statutes and if convicted, would need to register as a sex offender. California lawmakers have recently proposed a bill that would reduce the punishment for first time sexting offenders who are minors. Such punishment would include community service and mandatory counseling (to be paid for by the minor’s parents). Arizona - Arizona  has a specific “sexting” law that applies to minors only. In general, a minor who engages in sexting with another minor could be guilty of a petty offense or class 3 misdemeanor depending upon the facts and circumstances. Adults over the age of 18 who engage in sexting with a minor face prosecution under the state’s strict child pornography laws. Nevada - In June of 2011, the Governor signed a new law that creates a specific law for underaged sexting. The new law applies only to minors who are caught sexting. The minors would face lesser punishment than under the child pornography statutes. The new law goes into effect on July 1st. Previously in Nevada, anyone (including a minor) who promoted, distributed or possessed an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act could have been prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, would have been required to register as a sex offender. Utah - In 2009, Utah was one of the first States to pass a law where sexting between minors would be classified as a misdemeanor crime rather than a felony and the minor offender would not be required to register as a sex offender. Colorado - Currently, the State of Colorado does not have a separate statute that addresses sexting amongst minors. Therefore, in Colorado, creating, distributing or possessing an image of a minor engaged in sexual conduct may result in felony charges of sexual exploitation of a minor. Convictions under the sexual exploitation of a minor statute could result in jail time and registering with the State as a sexual offender. New Mexico - The State of New Mexico does not have a separate statute for sexting crimes. In general, under New Mexico law anyone, regardless of age, who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, may serve up to 9 years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender. Oregon - Currently, in the State of Oregon, anyone, regardless of age, who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, may be incarcerated and will need to register as a sex offender. Recently, legislation was proposed in the Oregon State Senate that would reduce penalties for minors caught sexting. North Dakota - A new law in North Dakota reduces the punishment for those caught sexting to a misdemeanor. Before the Governor signed the bill into law, in North Dakota an individual (including a minor) who was caught creating, distributing or possessing a sexually explicit image of a minor (including themselves) could have been charged under the State’s child pornography statutes. If convicted, they would have been required to have registered as a sex offender. South Dakota - A proposed bill that would have addressed juvenile sexting and would not have required a minor to register as a sex offender or serve jail time recently died in the State legislature. Currently, under South Dakota law, creating, distributing or possessing an image of a minor engaged in sexual conduct may result in felony charges under the child pornography laws. Convictions under the sexual exploitation of a minor statute could result in up to 10 years in jail time and registering with the State as a sexual offender.  Nebraska - In 2009, the State of Nebraska passed a law making it a crime to send sexually explicit images of a minor by way of text messaging. In general, under Nebraska law individuals under the age of 18 will not be prosecuted for receiving a sexually explicit image of a minor 15 years of age or older, provided that, the image was taken voluntarily by the subject of the image and the recipient of the image does not distribute the image to anyone else. Iowa - Currently, Iowa does not a have a specific statute for sexting offenses. In general, anyone (including a minor) who promotes, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, will need to register as a sex offender.
Mississippi - Currently, under State of Mississippi law a minor who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in sexual conduct could be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws, and if found guilty, be subject to substantial fines, jail time and/or have to register as a sex offender. Indiana - The State of Indiana can prosecute individuals, regardless of age, caught sending or receiving sexually explicit images of a minor. However, the State recently proposed legislation that would lighten punishment for minors and teens engaged in sexting provided the images were created voluntarily, the two individuals involved are separated by 4 years or less and the individuals were in a relationship. Illinois - In 2010, Illinois passed a law that made sexing between minors illegal. In general, if two minors are caught sexting or a minor distributes sexually explicit images of another minor, under the Illinois’ law each such minor would be charged with a misdemeanor and could be ordered to receive court supervision and counseling or perform community service. Minors will not be prosecuted under the child pornography laws and will not be required to register as a sex offender, if convicted. Minnesota - Minnesota does not have a separate statute for sexting crimes. In the State of Minnesota anyone (including a minor) who creates, distributes or possesses an image of minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and, if convicted, will generally receive jail time and need to register as a sex offender. Wisconsin - Wisconsin does not have a separate statute to address sexting crimes. Therefore, in the State of Wisconsin, anyone (including a minor) who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit activity may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and, if convicted, will generally serve time in jail and need to register as a sex offender. Missouri - Under Missouri law if a minor is caught possessing or distributing sexually explicit images of a minor (including images of themselves) then such minor shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, if it is their first offense, and may be punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If convicted, the minor will not need to register as a sex offender in the State of Missouri. Arkansas - Arkansas does not have a statute that addresses sexting between minors. Currently, in Arkansas a person -- regardless of age -- who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, may receive jail time and will generally be required to register as a sex offender.
Oklahoma - Recently, a bill was proposed in the Oklahoma legislature that would make it a misdemeanor for any minor to send or receive a sexually explicit image of a minor by way of text messaging. However, the bill has only been proposed and until this bill or another similar bill is made law, anyone, including a minor, who creates, distributes or possesses an image of minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, will generally receive jail time and will need to register as a sex offender. Kansas - The State of Kansas does not currently have a separate statute that addresses sexting between minors. In general, under Kansas law anyone who creates, distributes or possesses an image of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act may be prosecuted for a felony under the State’s child pornography laws and if convicted, may serve time in jail and be required to register as a sex offender. Louisiana - Currently, if a minor (someone under the age of 17 in Louisiana) transmits an indecent image of himself or herself to another such minor will generally be subject to mandatory counseling or other punishments but will not receive jail time. However, a minor who possess or transmits an image of minor portrayed in an indecent state could be subject to up to 10 days in jail and up to a $250 fine for a first offense. Adults who are not minors will face stricter penalties which will generally include jail time and may need to register as a sex offender.

State Laws Overview

The severity of a child’s action in terms of sexting is not always fully understood by both the children involved or their parents, but all 50 states have some type of legal enforcement.

While most parents understand that a child caught with sexually explicit images on their phone is criminal, the severity of the charges that could be assessed against the child can be sobering. For example, in states that have not specifically addressed sexting, it is very possible that the state will defer to its child pornography laws to address the action. As such, parents and their children need to begin to appreciate the following:

  • Possession of a sexually explicit image of a minor is a crime in and of itself.
  • Distribution (sending a sexually explicit image of a minor to others) is a crime in and of itself.
  • Promoting (the act of taking the picture of a minor who is engaged in a sexual act, even if the person taking the photo is the object of the photo) or coercing or soliciting (requesting a minor or tricking a minor into sending a sexually explicit image) is a crime in and of itself.
    • A teenager who takes a naked picture of themselves and sends it to another teen, has technically committed 3 felony crimes.
    • They could be charged with promoting, distributing and possessing child pornography and if convicted, could face real jail time.
  • A teen who receives a sexually explicit image (even if it was not requested) can be charged with possession and if they send the picture to anyone else they are looking at distribution charges if caught.
  • If one of the children is 18 (17 in some states) they are adults in the eyes of the law and even though they may be in a relationship with another teen, if that teen is under the age of 18 (17 in some states) there is a much greater risk of strict prosecution.
  • If convicted, the conviction will most likely be a felony and require the teenager to register as a sex offender.

While prosecutors tend to be reluctant to pursue aggressive sentences for teens who are caught sexting with a boyfriend or girlfriend, however, if the sexting image gets distributed to more than one child, then there is more pressure on the legal system to make an example out of the wrongdoers and impose heavier penalties. Regardless, if a teen gets caught with a sexually explicit image of a minor on their phone, that teen is going to be subject to the criminal process.

Arrests will still be made, lawyers will need to be hired to defend the child, and an incident can follow the child around for the rest of his or her life. Needless to say, it can turn into a very stressful situation from a simple lapse of judgement.

While the criminal component of teenage sexting is by far the most popular topic people focus on when it comes to the topic of sexting, there are many other adverse aspects of teenage sexting that can impact a teenagers life or his or her families life in a negative way. These include...

Civil Liability for Parents

In general, most teenagers do not pay for their own cellphone. The account is in their parents name. Therefore, the parent technically owns the phone and permits the child to use the phone.

If a child breaks up with their boyfriend or girlfriend and has sexually explicit images of them and they distribute those pictures and the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend suffers harm in any way, a lawyer could argue that the parent should be held monetarily liable for the child’s actions because the phone was used in a manner in which it was not intended to be used.

Parents should think of putting a cellphone in the hands of their child no differently than they think of tossing their child the keys to the family car. There is no difference except that the parent probably has insurance on the automobile. We live in a litigious society and in general, when someone suffers harm at the expense of another person someone is going to get sued.

Exposure to Sexual Predators and Pedophiles

Police and law enforcement agencies across the United States are warning teenagers and parents about the dangers of sexting.

Mostly because if the pictures get on to the Internet they become available to anyone, including sexual predators and pedophiles who are constantly trolling the Internet looking for images and pictures of children. Many of the sexting images that get distributed to more than 1 person end up making their way onto the Internet and into the collections of pedophiles.

Many times, if it is possible, the pedophile will try to seek out the teen in the picture and use the picture as blackmail so they can get more pictures of the teen or even worse try to arrange meetings for sexual encounters. ]

Cyberbullying

One of the consequences of teenage sexting can be ridicule and peer abuse, especially if the teen who took the picture meant for the picture to remain private between her or him and the recipient.

When naked pictures get distributed amongst other classmates or peers the object of the pictures can become the subject of relentless ridicule, teasing and bullying. Many times the abuse does not stop after the teen leaves school. Social networking sites, text messaging and other ways to communicate keep teens connected to one another 24/7 and for the teen who is getting abused it can become overwhelming because there is nowhere to go to escape.

A frightening example of this happened in Ohio when an 18 year old girl whose naked photo she sent to her boyfriend got distributed amongst her classmates and peers. The abuse she took became so overwhelming that she sought the only way out she could think of and killed herself. Another girl, a 13 year old from Florida had a similar situation which ended the same way. Neither one of these children intended for the photo they took to be distributed.

There has been a lot of media attention on cyberbullying and schools are trying to crack down on the practice, but like everyday gossip it is hard to police and stop. Stopping teenage sexting however, would be a good start.

College Admissions/Job Placement

Universities and employers are increasingly checking applicants social media sites as well as other background checks before granting admission or extending job offers. If schools or prospective employers come across sexually explicit images of an applicant, see that the applicant was involved in the distribution of a naked photo of another teen, or the applicant was arrested, or charged with a misdemeanor or worse a felony, then chances are the applicant is not going to be accepted or offered the job regardless of the applicants grades, or qualifications. The pictures show a lapse of judgement and the last thing a school wants or employer wants to see in an applicant is bad judgement. Remember, especially with schools, the people reviewing the application do not know the applicant. All they have are the papers submitted and the information they find on their own. They don’t know the history or circumstances of why the picture was taken or distributed and generally, are not interested in finding out. They have a stack of other applications to go through and all they know is that this applicant had used bad judgement in the past and who is to say they won’t use bad judgement again and embarrass the university or bring unwanted attention to an employer. Four years of hard work can be destroyed in a matter of seconds because of the child’s lapse of judgement and a teen’s propensity to live in the moment and not focus on the lasting implications of their actions.

Sextortion

One of the more recent trends associated with teenage sexting is a practice of using a teen’s explicit photograph against the teen to extort more pictures or even worse sexual favors from the teen. In general, the extortionist will threaten to release the picture on the teen’s social networking site or send it to their school or parent unless the teen does something for the extortionist. In an attempt to keep everything quite the teen will usually comply with the request, but when doing so is actually creating a bigger whole for themselves because now the extortionist has more ammunition at his or her disposal to extort the teen. The extortionist plays off the teen’s necessity to keep their indiscretion quite, in most cases, the last thing a teen wants is for their parents, principal or even their friends to see a naked photograph of themselves. Teens tend to think that the repercussions of their actions will be more sever coming from their parents or school rather than the extortionist, and the extortionist is more than willing to see how far the teen will go to keep their secret quite.

Emotional Distress / Embarrassment

When a sexually explicit image which was never intended to be made public becomes public the object of the picture can suffer great harm emotionally. Many times the teen’s behavior will change, grades will suffer, and depression can result. Many teens will need to seek professional help to get them through the trauma of the incident which can have long lasting implications. Remember that once something makes its way onto the Internet it will live there forever and even though it may be dormant for many years the potential of it reoccurring will always exist.

Latest National Headlines Concerning Sexting

Teen Sexting and Its Association With Sexual Behaviors

Journal of American Medical Association | July 1, 2012

Sexting' Common Among Teens: Survey

US News and World Report | June 15, 2012

Sexting: Parents need to understand social pressures and behavior

Christian Science Monitor | July 11, 2011

Apps hide ‘sexting’ from parents

FOX Denver | February 23, 2012

Sexting an issue in Guelph

570 News | January 24, 2012

Teen Sexting Linked to Psychological Distress

ABC News | November 10, 2011

Peer Pressure Drives Sexting

Psych Central | October 3, 2011

Teens not realizing effects of sexting

Daily Press | June 15, 2011

Parents Should Screen Kids' Summer Web Surfing

US News & World Report | May 31, 2011

New victims emerge in sextortion case

Pittsburgh Post Gazette | May 26, 2011

Alarming New Statistics About Teen Sexting

WWL FM 105 | April 26, 2011

Teenage ‘Sexting’: What Can Be Done?

NY Times | April 2, 2011

Is it time to prosecute sexting teens?

The Week | March 29, 2011

A Girl's Nude Photo, Altered Lives

NY Times | March 27, 2011

States Struggle with Minors Sexting

NY Times | March 27, 2011

What they're saying about sexting

NY Times | March 27, 2011

Beyond 'Sexting' teens sending racing photos

ABC Good Morning America | March 22, 2011

Legal Experts Caution Conference Attendees on Cyber Risks in Schools

School Transportation News | March 12, 2011

Keep Your Kids Safe Online

FOX Business | March 2, 2011

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