Twenty-seven states have laws that address sexting. These states include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. All of these include wording that addresses minors sending images that are sexual in nature. All but Illinois and Oklahoma also address the issue of minors receiving sexually-themed images.
In a growing remote world, the need to safeguard practices has left states like Connecticut to review their current landscape and stance on "sexting", or SMS texting in an explicit and sexual nature. While the laws do not specifically target consenting adults, most laws are in accordance with images and video messages between young adults in their teenage years. Connecticut law prohibits those between 13 and 17 years of age from transmitting or even possessing explicit sexual content of either themselves or another teenager.
Of course, this law is in effect for younger children as well, as this applies to all those with access to a mobile device and are so inclined. The law in Connecticut makes specific distinctions between the ages of the recipient and their original or forwarded sender. The law states that the defines sender as being between 13 to 15 years of age, and the recipient is around 13 to 17 years of age. No guidance on younger ages is given toward this law, and of course, recipients and senders that are above this age can be charged for possession of child pornography.
Louisiana is an example of a state that does not want to split hairs in its messaging. The general public opinion, especially in a court of law, is that those who are under the age of 17 should not possess or distribute any explicit sexual content of themselves or their peers. It is notable that the age is not 18, which is largely considered the age of majority in most states, including Louisiana.
Louisiana acknowledges that it is incredibly difficult to mandate phone and service providers from barring any images or content for those of a certain age, especially since the plan is usually in the name of a parent, guardian, or older family member. This presents an intrinsic difficulty in defining the law towards messaging, so it is more focused on "receiving and subsequently" keeping the image.
This means that if a teen were to receive an image and then download that image, they would be considered breaking this specific law. As most phones may automatically save photos, the teenager may also claim that they deleted the content in a timely manner.
Texas represents a middle-of-the-road approach when it comes to sexting. While their stance on explicit material and child pornography echoes that of other states, Texas does allow sexting (i.e. receiving and keeping content) amongst adolescents provided the distributor and recipient consent to the relationship and images, and are at most two years apart in age.
This means that a minor as young as 16 years of age could potentially sext an adult who has reached the age of majority at 18. Of course, the stance from the state of Texas is that a new young adult of 18 or 19 years of age should not be punished for engaging in a relationship with someone around their own age.
Do Sexting Laws Exist?
|Arizona||Yes||Petty offense, Class 2 misdemeanor or Class 3 misdemeanor.|
|Arkansas||Yes||Class A misdemeanor; from eight hours of community service to one year of confinement.|
|Colorado||Yes||Three-tiered system that classifies the offense based on the teen’s actions and the circumstances of each case: For Posting: criminal misdemeanor charges. For Possesion: petty offenses. For Exchanging: civil infractions, meaning the teen will not have a criminal record if found guilty.|
|Florida||Yes||From petty offense to serious third-degree felony for third or subsequent offense, punishable by up to five years in prison, five years of probation, a $5,000 fine, and a possible requirement to register as a sex offender.|
|Illinois||Yes||Illinois Juvenile Supervision Laws punish certain acts and allow teenage/minor offenders to avoid registration into the state’s sex offender registry. However, if the teen faces child porn possession, distribution, or any other related felony offense, they may face charges as an adult. Facing charges as an adult will require the teen to register as a sex offender and face adult consequences.|
|Indiana||Yes||Indiana created a new law—indecent display by youth—that carries misdemeanor penalties for certain consensual sexting between dating minors. The law appolies to minors, and person receiving or depicted in the image must have consented to the conduct. Outside of these circumstances, minors can face the felony penalties|
|Kansas||Yes||Punishments for first-time offenses related to sexting range from class B, person misdemeanors to level 9, person felonies. Second-time offenses incur more severe punishments.|
|Louisiana||Yes||First and second offense: Detention up to 10 days, a fine between $100 to $250, or both. Third and subsequent offenses: Detention between 30 days and six months, a fine between $500 and $750, or both.|
|Nebraska||Yes||Teenagers who are no more than two years in age apart may not be in legal trouble, provided the sender is less than 19 years old and the recipient is no younger than 15. In all other cases sexting that involves minor is a crime.|
|Nevada||Yes||Sexting between minors is considered a delinquent act that can lead to the minor being placed in custody for up to 6 months.|
|New Jersey||Yes||From participating in an educational program or counseling that addresses the consequences of sexting, to felony charges.|
|New Mexico||Yes||Consensual sexting between teens above fourteen and not over eighteen is legal if there is no solicitation or enticement.|
|New York||Yes||From participating in an educational program or counseling that addresses the consequences of sexting, to felony charges.|
|North Dakota||Yes||Misdemeanors; people who are convicted of sexting under the statute are not required to register as sex offenders. If convicted of sexting under these laws, a person can be punished with up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.|
|Pennsylvania||Yes||From a summary offense to a second-degree misdemeanor.|
|Rhode Island||Yes||Minors involved in sexting face charges in family court.|
|South Dakota||Yes||If both the sender and receiver are under 18, prosecutors can pursue class 1 misdemeanor sexting charges against one or both parties involved.|
|Tennessee||Yes||Unruly acts (sometimes called status offenses).|
|Texas||Yes||From Class C misdemeanor to Class A misdemeanor. First-time offenders under 18 have the option of having their record expunged after they turn 18 and will not have to register as a sex offender. However, individuals who have a second offense or more and those who are 18 and over do not have these options.|
|Utah||Yes||Teens above 16 can face class A or class B misdemeanor charges. Note that Utah’s sexting law does not prevent prosecutors from pursuing Exploitation of a Minor, Solicitation of a Minor, Child Pornography, Harassment, and Revenge Porn charges.|
|Vermont||Yes||Minors engaging in sexting will be adjudicated delinquent and may be referred to the juvenile diversion program for the first offense. For subsequent offenses, they may be prosecuted for sexual exploitation of children, but do not have to be a part of the sex offender registry. All records will be expunged on the minor turning eighteen.|
|Washington||Yes||Misdemeanor penalties apply for minor sexting minors 13 years old, and older. More severe penalties apply if a minor sexts or knowingly possesses a sexually explicit image of another minor younger than 13. These crimes are class B felonies.|
|West Virginia||Yes||Any teen who completes the state’s diversion program will not be under the statute for their breach of law. Note that it is up to the prosecutor to decide if a minor qualifies for the diversion program. If a teen chooses not to enroll in the diversion program they will be prosecuted in the juvenile system or family court.|