Data & Society > our work > blog posts > Sexting, Minors, and US Legislation: When Laws Intended to Protect Have Unintended Consequences

blog post | 01.06.15

Sexting, Minors, and US Legislation: When Laws Intended to Protect Have Unintended Consequences

Monica Bulger

D&S researcher Monica Bulger considers how existing child pornography laws address (or fail to address) the phenomenon of sexting, in which minors produce sexually explicit images of themselves to share with other minors:

Existing US law prohibits the production, possession, sale, and distribution of child pornography, defined by Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code as “any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving someone under 18 years of age” (2). Penalties under child pornography laws can include fines, imprisonment, and registry as a sex offender. What is unclear in practice, however, is distinguishing between child sexual abuse images — in which the image is taken and distributed without consent or through violence or coercion, and which seem to be the intended target of existing law — and self-generated images taken by minors and willingly shared with other minors. Given the legislative grey area surrounding sexting, teens are potentially at risk of criminal charges for what has become a widespread practice.

The relevance and applicability of laws intended to protect minors from the production of child sexual abuse images need further investigation in light of new practices of image sharing among teens.

Subscribe to the Data & Society newsletter

Support us

Donate
Data & Society Research Institute 36 West 20th Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10011, Tel: 646.832.2038

Reporters and media:
[email protected]

General inquiries:
[email protected]

Unless otherwise noted this site and its contents are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.