By being aware of the relevant law and having policies in place to deal with sexting, prosecutors and law enforcement, school districts, parents, and teenagers themselves can curb sexting behavior while avoiding liability.
The crime of sexting Sexting can have serious social and emotional consequences for teens and adults alike - especially where a picture is taken without knowledge, forwarded without consent, or used to bully and harass.
Thus, a 17-year-old who snaps his or her own revealing picture has technically created child pornography, a Class 1 felony with a mandatory fine of between $2,000 and $100,000 and at least four years in prison.
While the statute does not define "sufficient time," sooner is better than later.
Further, the embarrassment of uncontrolled dissemination of personal and private pictures can significantly disrupt the teen's life.
For example, after hundreds of people were sent sext messages a teen had sent only to her boyfriend, she was cruelly harassed through My Space and Facebook, leading her to hang herself.
Sex offense laws predating the sexting phenomenon do not contemplate the ease and frequency with which teens send risque' pictures to each other from their phones.
Nonetheless, they subject sexting teens to a myriad of felony charges and branding as a "sex offender." A teenager's ability to snap a picture and send it in seconds without reflection gives rise to new legal issues for society and the legal community.
For example, Vermont recently enacted a law making a teenager's first "sexting" offense a juvenile court matter, giving the teen the opportunity to be sent to a diversionary program rather than be charged as an adult and branded a sex offender.
which would transform most sexting between teens from a felony to a noncrime by treating the teen in question as a nondelinquent minor in need of supervision under the Juvenile Court Act.
Legislators should consider drafting a narrow exception to sex offenses to prevent "innocent" teens from being charged with serious violations while maintaining liability for those who are guilty of actual child pornography - regardless of age.
Until then, parents and schools may be better equipped to discipline and admonish sexting teens than are police and prosecutors.
For attorneys who counsel educational institutions, it is only a matter of time before they must grapple with sexting-related issues.