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How far is too far? teen sexting and the law


With today’s widespread availability of cell phones, more teenagers than ever before have access to a world of online attractions. Some of these attractions lie in the appeal of social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Despite the fact that the appeal of social media platforms has dominated youth culture, there is one activity that has maintained its popularity over the years: that of “sexting,” or the sending of sexually explicit photographs through the mode of a mobile phone. Most Virginia teens are familiar with this term, and although sexting is ideally consensual, the state labels the act a crime that comes with devastating penalties.

In 2014, The Roanoke Times commented on the stiffness of of sexting penalties among teens, especially those who choose to send explicit photographs voluntarily. While the two crimes are, in fact, entirely unrelated, the Times reveals the shocking connection in law of sexting and child pornography. Virginia law does not differentiate between these two acts; if an individual under the age of 15 takes an explicit photo of themselves and is tried as an adult, they could face a felony prison term of five to 30 years. Making matters worse, those under 15 and convicted of sexting could land on the state sex offender registry. The connecting of these two charges certainly seems bizarre, as the Times shares that the Virginia State Crime Commission has recently reconsidered the harshness of these penalties and has generally agreed that taking a photo of oneself without anyone else in the photo is the least harmful form of juvenile sexting.

The Virginia State Crime Commission’s 2014 handbook clarifies this reconsideration, pointing out that, although the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association was in favor of modifying this strict law, the Crime Commission made no changes. The proposal intially sought new misdemeanor crimes in relation to sexting. Dovetailing from the Times article on the harmless aspects of solo sexting, the Commission reviewed other calls for change that lessened the penalties for teenagers who consensually send and receive sexually explicit photos. 

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