As technology continues to grow and expand, so will the ways we use it. One new behavior is sexting. While we’ll look more at what defines sexting in a moment, the short definition is that it is the use of an electronic messaging app to exchange sexually explicit messages or images.

Sexting is not a crime when the parties engaged in the act are adults. So long as everybody involved is an adult, and nobody is being forced, there is no crime being committed by sexting. It could be between a couple or even a group of people, and the law would treat it all the same.

Sexting is really only a sex crime when it involves a minor. Minors these days are all connected via the internet, and this has led to an increase in minors engaging in sexting. Unfortunately for them, this is an illegal act when they engage in it. To understand more, we will explore the exact nature of sexting, when it is considered a crime, and what penalties could result from charges that arise from sexting.

What Exactly is Sexting?

Sexting is the act of using a digital messaging app to send sexually explicit images, messages, videos, or audio clips. These messages are always sent in a digital format, whether that is through SMS messages, a digital messaging service, or social media network.

Many people use messaging apps as if they were an extension of normal conversation or communication. As such, many people don’t take into account the fact that messaging apps are a way of creating digital information. For example: when somebody sends their lover a selfie, they aren’t thinking about the fact that they just partook in the creation of an image and the distribution of that image.

Sending sexually explicit images sent between a couple might not seem like the creation and distribution of pornography, but that is exactly what it is. It might be best thought of as personal pornography rather than something that is publically available. But regardless of the intended recipient, the act of sexting a sexually explicit image is still the creation and distribution of porn. That’s important to keep in mind when going forward.

When is Sexting a Crime?

Sexting becomes a crime when it involves a minor.

An adult that engages in sexting with a minor may be guilty of:

  • Sexual Exploitation of a Minor: This is the charge most often faced by adults who engage in sexting with a minor between the ages of fifteen and seventeen.
  • Online Solicitation of a Minor: Similarly to sexual exploitation, online solicitation may be charged in situations where the internet provided access to a minor.
  • Child Pornography: Receiving sexually explicit images and messages from a minor can result in child pornography charges, which range in severity depending on certain factors, like the age of the child.

It is also a juvenile crime for a minor to engage in sexting, even if the other party is a minor. However, Arizona law allows a little more leeway to be taken in certain situations so that children aren’t harmed by the legal system instead of supported.

ARS 8-309 informs us that:

It is unlawful for a juvenile to use an electronic device to transmit or display a depiction of a minor that depicts explicit sexual material.
It is unlawful for them to possess such material.

However, if a minor did not ask for sexually explicit material and took the steps of deleting or reporting it, they aren’t considered to have broken any law. After all, they did not ask to possess child pornography and took steps to destroy it immediately.

In addition, if the exchange of sexually explicit images was strictly from one minor to another minor, then the crime is considered to be a petty offense. The crime is upgraded to a Class 3 misdemeanor if the photo is shared with more than one individual. This helps to prevent harsh punishments in situations where the sexting is between a couple while still making it clear that the act itself is illegal.

What Are the Penalties for Sexting?

Penalties for sexting are pretty different depending on whether the individual found guilty is a minor or an adult. Adults may face charges for sexual exploitation, child pornography, online solicitation of a minor, or potentially more.

Lighter penalties may include probation and a year or two in jail. More serious crimes could result in over thirty years behind bars. The unique circumstances of the crime in question are used to determine an appropriate penalty. Punishments also take into account whether or not the charge is a first offense or a repeat offense.

Those who are convicted of a sex crime involving a minor will have to register as sex offenders for life. As such, their ability to interact with anybody under the age of eighteen will be affected. This includes the guilty individual’s own minor children, which could have a devastating impact on their family life. Keep in mind this is not even touching the social consequences of how people in the guilty individual’s life would treat them.

Penalties for a minor may also vary depending on the circumstances of their case. They may be charged with a perry offense and have to pay a fine of $300. But it could also be that they are charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor, which would mean a $500 fine and thirty days detention. Repeat convictions result in increased penalties, just like they would with adult repeat offenders.

How Could a Lawyer Help?

If you are facing charges relating to sexting, then it is important to reach out to an attorney as soon as possible. The types of charges that stem from sexting can have a profound negative effect on your life, not just in the immediate penalties you could face but in the way that a conviction continues to cause distress and hardship for years to come.