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Sexting and teens in Texas

Sending nude or otherwise sexually explicit messages could result in serious criminal charges with potentially lasting consequences for Texas teens.

Many youths begin exploring their sexuality and learning about intimacy, trust and boundaries during the teenage years. This may involve physical relationships, as well as interacting through technology such as phones, email, webcams and apps. Unfortunately, some seemingly harmless sexual interactions may result in criminal charges with lasting implications for Texas teens.

What is sexting?

Sexting, or sex texting, involves sending or receiving messages, images or video that are sexually explicit or suggestive. This includes text messages propositioning or referring to sex acts; partially or fully nude selfies or photos; and videos displaying nudity, simulated sex or sex acts. Such messages may be sent via smartphones or the Internet.

When is sexting illegal?

Although Texas law does not specifically address sex texting, there are laws applicable to the transmission of sexually explicit material under which teens may get charged. Under state law, minors are prohibited from electronically sending visuals of another minor engaging in sexual acts if they themselves produced the material or know that it was done by another minor. The exception to this involves minors involved in dating relationships whose ages are within two years of each other. For example, a 16-year-old girl may not be charged with a crime for sending a partially nude selfie to her 18-year-old boyfriend.

Teens who sext may also be charged with possession or promotion of child pornography under Texas state law. The law prohibits anyone from knowingly or intentionally having or accessing to view sexual material involving minors under the age of 18-years-old engaged in sexual acts.

What are the penalties for sexting?

The types of penalties teens may face as a result of sexting depend on the specific offenses they are charged with. Transmitting sexually explicit material involving minors is generally considered a class C misdemeanor, which carries a potential fine of no more than $500. If the intent of sending the pictures was to abuse, embarrass, harass or offend, however, the charge may be class B misdemeanor. If convicted of this offense, teens face up to 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000.

A felony level offense, the statutory penalties for child pornography-related charges are severe. A first-time offense is charged as a third-degree felony, and teens convicted of this crime may face between two and 10 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. Second or subsequent offenses are charged as second- and first-degree felonies respectively and are punishable by between two and 30 years in prison or five years to life in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Obtaining legal representation

What seems like innocent sexual exploration can have life-changing consequences when Texas teens are charged with sexting-related offenses. Therefore, those arrested for such crimes may benefit from working with an attorney. A lawyer may explain their rights and options, as well as aid in crafting a defense against the charges they face.