Sexting is serious.

“Sexting” is the increasingly-common practice of sending nude or suggestive pictures of oneself or someone else by text message on a cell phone.  Such messages also sometimes are sent by email or other methods, but most often what we refer to as “sexting” involves a cell-phone.

This is a dangerous practice, because if it involves pictures of people who are younger than 18, sexting may violate the laws of Massachusetts that were established to protect children. The child pornography laws in Massachusetts are all felonies; they are quite serious, and there are no “lesser” charges (i.e. misdemeanors) that apply to this conduct. Incidents of “sexting” are taken very seriously by schools and law enforcement, and sometimes result in criminal charges.

There are several charges that can result from sexting.

Posing a Child in a State of Nudity or Sexual Conduct.

It is illegal for anyone, with lascivious intent, to knowingly encourage, cause, coerce, solicit, or entice a person under 18 years of age – male or female – to pose or be shown in a state of nudity (or semi-nudity) for the purpose of photographing them.

Thus, in many circumstances, encouraging a person, even a friend, who is under 18 to take a photo of themselves nude, or of body parts considered sexual in nature, with their cell phone or digital camera, may violate this statute.

Dissemination of Pictures of a Child in a State of Nudity or Sexual Conduct.

It is illegal for anyone, with lascivious intent, to knowingly send out or disseminate pictures of a person under 18 (1) in a state of nudity (or semi-nudity) or (2) engaged in a sexual act.

Thus, for example, a sixteen year old who photographs him or herself nude, and sends it to their boyfriend or girlfriend, violates this statute. A person who receives such a picture attached to an email, for example, and who knowingly forwards it to another person, may also be in violation of this law.

Possession of Child Pornography.

It is illegal for anyone to knowingly possess photographs (in any format) which depict a person under the age of 18 posed with a lewd exhibition of genitals, buttocks, breasts or engaged in an actual or simulated sexual acts.

Having lewd photographs of another person’s exposed genitals, for example, whether it be a friend or stranger, who is under 18, on your cell phone or home computer, violates this statute. Knowingly possessing it, even without sending it on to another person, is illegal.

Dissemination of Harmful Matter to a Minor.

It is illegal for anyone to knowingly send to any person under the age of 18 matter considered to be “harmful. “Harmful matter” includes things that are obscene or pornographic in nature.

Thus when an 18 year old photographs his or her genitals, for example, and sends it to their 17 year old girlfriend or boyfriend, they are in violation of this statute.

Other Potential Consequences:

A conviction in criminal court resulting from “sexting” may have other serious consequences. In addition to the potential jail sentence and/or fine imposed by a Judge, a conviction for the offenses described above may require registration as a Sex Offender for the next 20 years.

A conviction for any of the above-described offenses results in a “felony conviction,” which can trigger a restriction of school activities, such as sports, denial of college admission, and denial of student loan eligibility. A felony conviction mandates that a DNA sample be provided to the state. A felony conviction may also affect future employment opportunities, such as those offered in law enforcement and other high-security clearance positions.

Even without a criminal conviction, “sexting” may be addressed within school, and could potentially result in suspension or expulsion.