In this study, we analyzed the sexting laws of 50 states in the United States (U.S.) and the District of Columbia, as well as five English-speaking international countries (Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, and South Africa). We also examined laws related to aggravated circumstances, such as in cases of revenge porn. Our analyses revealed considerable variation, both in U.S. and international law, with some jurisdictions relying on archaic child pornography statutes to prosecute teenage sexting cases and others, developing new, extensive legislation that addresses various types of online interactions (e.g., sexting, revenge porn, and cyber bullying). Additionally, in jurisdictions where specific teenage sexting legislation has not been adopted, there is often a disconnect between these child pornography statutes, laws related to age of sexual consent, and typical teenage sexting behavior. This incongruity creates an abstruse landscape for teenagers to determine the legality of their sexting behaviors. Using the psychological research on the topic of sexting as a basis for our discussion, we highlight the state-level and national legislation that attempts to address these issues comprehensively. Moreover, we make legislative recommendations and advocate for more uniformity across jurisdictions and lesser penalties in teenage sexting cases.
This article forms a part of Special Issue on Sexting, International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Vol 11 issue 2, July - December 2017. Guest Editors: Fawn Ngo, K. Jaishankar, Jose R. Agustina.
Adelmann, B. (2015, November 12). Colorado sexting scandal is one of many; and a reason to exit public schools. The New Amercian. Retrieved from: https://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/education/item/21941-charges-not-likely-to-be-filed-in-colorado-sexting-scandal. Associated Press. (2015, November 14). Old laws collide with digital reality in teen sexting cases. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-teen-sexting-cases-20151114-story.html. Australia Institute of Family Studies (2016, April). Age of consent laws. Retrieved from: https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/age-consent-laws. Bates, S. (2017). Revenge porn and mental health: A qualitative analysis of the mental health effects of revenge porn on female survivors. Feminist Criminology, 12, 22–42. doi:10.1177/1557085116654565. Baumgartner, S. E., Sumter, S. R., Peter, J., Valkenburg, P. M., & Livingstone, S. (2014). Does country context matter? Investigating the predictors of teen sexting across Europe. Computers in Human Behavior, 34, 157–164. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.01.041. Botelho, G. & Martinez, M. (2015). DA: No charges against Colorado students in sexting scandal. CNN. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/09/us/colorado-sexting-scandal-canon-city. Brinkley, D. Y., Ackerman, R. A., Ehrenreich, S. E., & Underwood, M. K. (2017). Sending and receiving text messages with sexual content: Relations with early sexual activity and borderline personality features in late adolescence. Computers in Human Behavior, 70, 119–130. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.12.082. Bulger, M. (2015, January 6). Sexting, minors, and US legislation: When laws intended to protect have unintended consequences. Internet Monitor 2014. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/internet-monitor-2014-platforms-and-policy/sexting-minors-and-us-legislation-when-laws-intended-to-protect-have-unintended-consequences-32c83d01940. CBC News (2015, April 27). Victoria sexting teen given conditional discharge. CBC News British Columbia. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/victoria-sexting-teen-given-conditional-discharge-1.3050679. Celizic, M. (2009, March 16). Her teen committed suicide over 'sexting.' Today.com. Retrieved from: http://www.today.com/parents/her-teen-committed-suicide-over-sexting-2D80555048#.UHSeiZjA_ng. Cordasco, L. (2014, January 10). Sexting teen found guilty of distributing child pornography. CBC News. Retrieved from http://bc.ctvnews.ca/sexting-b-c-teen-found-guilty-of-child-pornography-1.1633678. Courier-Mail. (2016, October 13). Overwhelming majority of Queenslanders want to see revenge porn become a crime, poll finds. The Courier Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/overwhelming-majority-of-queenslanders-want-to-see-revenge-porn-become-a-crime-poll-finds/news-story/1066c44530c01562d0b291bec1112f38. Cruywagen, D. (2017, January 20). New bill to boost cyber crime fight. Africa News Network. Retrieved from: http://www.ann7.com/new-bill-to-boost-cybercrime-fight. Duncan, S. (2014). Child pornography statutes and new legislation. In T.C. Hiestand & W. J. Weins (Eds.), Sexting and Youth: A Multidisciplinary Examination of Research, Theory, and Law (pp. 177–201). Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press. Eckholm, E. (2015, November 13). Prosecutors weigh teenage sexting: Folly or felony? The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/14/us/prosecutors-in-teenage-sexting-cases-ask-foolishness-or-a-felony.html?_r=0. Emm, D. (2016, June 29). Sexting and its consequences. Huffington Post: The Blog UK. Retrieved from: www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/david-emm/sexting_b_10713694.html. Evett, E. L. (2016). Inconsistencies in Georgia's sex-crime statutes teach teens that sexting is worse than sex. Mercer Law Review, 67, 405–434. Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act 18 U.S.C. § 5032: Delinquency proceedings in district courts; transfer for criminal prosecution. Findlaw (2017). Child Pornography. Retrieved from: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/child-pornography.html. Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K. J., &Wolak, J. (2000, June). Online victimization: A report on the nation's youth. Crimes Against Children Research Center. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. FleschlerPeskin, M., Markham, C. M., Addy, R. C., Shegog, R., Thiel, M., & Tortolero, S. R. (2013). Prevalence and patterns of sexting among ethnic minority urban high school students. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 16, 454–459. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2012.0452. García-Moya, I., Suominen, S., & Moreno, C. (2014). Bullying victimization prevalence and its effects on psychosomatic complaints: Can sense of coherence make a difference? Journal of School Health, 84, 646–653. doi:10.1111/josh.12190. Gifford, N. (n.d.). Sexting in the USA. Family Online Safety Institute. Hoffman, J. (2011, March 26). States struggle with minors' sexting. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/27/us/27sextinglaw.html Ibtesam, R. (2017). On teenage'sexting' and the law. 37 Hamline J. Pub. L & Pol'y, 246. Inbar, M. (2009, December 2). 'Sexting' bullying cited in teen's suicide. Today.com. Retrieved from: http://www.today.com/id/34236377/ns/today-today_news/t/sexting-bullying-cited-teens-suicide/#.WQUotMZJmUk. Interpol (2017). Online safety. Retrieved from: https://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Cybercrime/Online-safety/Sextortion. Judge, A.M. (2012). "Sexting" among U.S. adolescents: Psychological and legal perspectives. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 20, 86-96. Kidd, R. (2016, April 20). Victim: Revenge porn devastating. National. Retrieved from: http://m.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11625636. Klettke, B., Hallford, D. J., and Mellor, D.J. (2014). Sexting prevalence and correlates: a systematic literature review. Clinical Psychology Review, 34, 44-53. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2013.10.007. Kulze, L. (2012, December 6). Why sexting laws are part of the problem. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/12/why-sexting-laws-are-part-of-the-problem/265973. Lovells, H. (2017). Cyber crime and Cybersecurity bill. Legal Briefs. Retrieved from: http://www.polity.org.za/article/cybercrime-and-cybersecurity-bill-2017-04-06. Maddocks, T. (2014, August 20). New sexting laws to exempt young people from child pornography charges. ABC News Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-21/australian-first-sexting-laws-to-be-introduced-in-victoria/5686166. Martinez, M. (2015, November 9). Sexting scandal: Colorado high school faces felony investigation. CNN. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/07/us/colorado-sexting-scandal-canon-city. McGlaughlin, K. (2015, September 5). High school quarterback and his girlfriend both CHARGED by cops for privately sharing nude photos of themselves. The Daily Mail.com. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3223533/North-Carolina-hgh-school-quarterback-girlfriend-charged-adults-exchanging-nude-photos.html#ixzz4fYbHBdO5. McNally, L. (2016, September 5). 'Revenge porn' to be criminalized in response to NSW privacy inquiry. ABC News. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-05/criminalising-revenge-porn-in-nsw-a-step-closer/7813446. Meissner, D. (2014, January 10). Sexting B.C. teen found guilty of child pornography. The Canadian Press. Retrieved from http://bc.ctvnews.ca/sexting-b-c-teen-found-guilty-of-child-pornography-1.1633678. Miller, M. (2015, September 21). N.C. just prosecuted a teenage couple for making child porn-or themselves. Morning Mix. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/21/n-c-just-prosecuted-a-teenage-couple-for-making-child-porn-of-themselves/?utm_term=.45373ed78563. Mitchell, K. J., Finkelhor, D., Jones, L.M., &Wolak, J. (2012). Prevalence and characteristics of youth sexting: A national study. Pediatrics, 129, 13–20. Mitchell, K. J., Jones, L. M., Finkelhor, D., &Wolak, J. (2013). Understanding the decline in unwanted online sexual solicitations for U.S. youth 2000–2010: Findings from three Youth Internet Safety Surveys. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37, 1225–1236. Montgomery, M. (2015, April 30). Canada's cyber bullying and revenge porn law applies to adults too. Radio Canada International. Retrieved from: http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2015/04/30/canadas-cyberbullying-and-revenge-porn-law-applies-to-adults-too. National Crime Prevention Council (2017). What is cyber bullying? Retrieved from: http://www.ncpc.org/topics/cyberbullying/what-is-cyberbullying. Olweus, D. (1991). Bully/victim problems among school children: Basic facts and effects of a school based intervention program. In D. Pepler, & K. Rubin (Eds.), The development and treatment of childhood aggression. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Paul, J. (2017, April 11). Future of Colorado's teen sexting laws in limbo as legislature weighs when sharing nude images is a crime. The Denver Post. Retrieved from: http://www.denverpost.com/2017/04/11/colorado-teen-sexting-bills/. Portman, J. (2017). Revenge porn: Laws and penalties. Criminal Defense Lawyer. Retrieved from: http://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/revenge-porn-laws-penalties.htm. Powell, A., Flynn, A., & Henry N. (2017, March 7). FactCheck Q & A: are there laws to protect against 'revenge porn' in Australia? The Conversation. Retrieved from: http://theconversation.com/factcheck-qanda-are-there-laws-to-protect-against-revenge-porn-in-australia-74154. Rollins, J. (2015). Sexting cyberchildren: Gender, sexuality, and childhood in social media and the law. Sexuality and Culture, 19, 57-71. Ryan, E. M. (2010). Sexting: How the state can prevent a moment of indiscretion from leading to a lifetime of unintended consequences for minors and young adults. Iowa Law Review, 96, 357–383. Schulz, A., Bergen, E., Schuhmann, P., Hoyer, J., &Santtila, P. (2016). Online sexual solicitation of minors. Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency, 53, 165–188. doi:10.1177/0022427815599426. Ševčíková, A. (2016). Girls' and boys' experience with teen sexting in early and late adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 51, 156–162. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.06.007. Shaw, D. (2016, September 6). Revenge porn: More than 200 prosecuted under new law. BBC News. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-37278264. Spooner, K., & Vaughn, M. (2014). Youth sexting: A legislative and constitutional analysis. Journal of School Violence, 15, 213–233. doi:10.1080/15388220.2014.974245. St. Clair, S. (2017, May 23). School disciplinary incident ends with a Naperville teen's suicide: 'They scared him to death.' Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-naperville-north-suicide-20170522-story.html. Stewart, K. (2014). When selfies are totes innappropes: Indecent communication with a young person. Retrieved from: http://www.otago.ac.nz/law/research/journals/otago085120.pdf. Strassberg, D. S., McKinnon, R. K., Sustaíta, M.A., & Rullo, J. (2013). Sexting by high school students: An exploratory and descriptive study. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 42, 15–21. Sweeney, J. (2011). Do Sexting Prosecutions Violate Teenagers' Constitutional Rights? 48 San Diego L. Rev. 951. Szymialis, J. (2010). Sexting: A response to those growing up with a growing trend. Indiana Law Review, 44, 301–339. Temple, J.R., Choi, H. (2014). Longitudinal association between teen sexting and sexual behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics. 134, 1-6. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-1974. Temple, J. R., Le, V. D., van den Berg, P., Ling, Y., Paul, J. A., & Temple, B. W. (2014). Brief report: Teen sexting and psychosocial health. Journal of Adolescence, 37, 33–36. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2013.10.008. Temple, J. R., Paul, J. A., van den Berg, P., Le, V. D., McElhany, A., & Temple, B. W. (2012). Teen sexting and its association with sexual behaviors. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 166, 828–833. Texas Education Code Ann. §37.218 (2011). The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (2008). Sex and tech: Results from a survey of teens and young adults. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Van Ouytsel, J., Van Gool, E., Ponnet, K., &Walrave, M. (2014). Brief report: The association between adolescents' characteristics and engagement in sexting. Journal of Adolescence, 37, 1387–1391. Van Ouytsel, J., Walrave, M., Ponnet, K., & Heirman, W. (2015). The association between adolescent sexting, psychosocial difficulties, and risk behavior: Integrative review. The Journal of School Nursing, 31, 54–69. doi:10.1177/1059840514541964. Wolak, J., Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2006). Online victimization of youth: Five years later. Crimes Against Children Research Center. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Woolverton, P. (2015, September 2). NC Law: Teens who take nude selfie photos face adult sex charges. The Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved from: http://www.fayobserver.com/ce750e51-d9ae-54ac-8141-8bc29571697a.html.