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Sexting in Texas: What Parents and Teens Need to Know

Published: Nov 30, 2023 in Sex Crimes Involving Children

The age of smartphones and DMs is here. Now more than ever, our lives and relationships, even the intimate parts, are playing out virtually.

Sexting, which is the sending, receiving, or forwarding of sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images has permeated our culture. What would have been unimaginable when we were teenagers is now standard. Nowadays, many young people perceive sexting and sending nudes as a regular part of modern communication – a digital flirtation or a way of expressing trust and intimacy.

While sexting can be harmless between consenting adults, the legal ramifications are tremendous for minors. This evolving norm among young people requires parents and adults to understand the dynamics of sexting and how the law approaches the matter. To that end, here are the laws relating to sexting in Texas, so parents and teens have the necessary knowledge.

The Consequences of Minors Sexting

The negative impact of sexting involving minors goes beyond a damaged reputation and embarrassment. Sexting has genuine legal consequences.

Depending on the circumstances, sexting involving minors can mean imprisonment from a few months in jail for misdemeanors to several years for felony offenses.

Perhaps the most severe potential consequence of sexting is mandatory registration as a sex offender. This entails having one’s name, address, and other personal details listed on a public database, accessible to anyone, including neighbors, employers, and more.

The lifelong damage possible with a sex crime conviction for sexting cannot be overstated. A conviction means living with a permanent criminal record, severely limiting employment and educational opportunities. This can be hard, if not impossible, for a young person to recover from. In addition, the societal stigma attached can strain relationships and lead to emotional distress.

State & Federal Laws About Sexting with Minors

Numerous Texas and federal laws have been established to address and criminalize sexting activities, emphasizing the seriousness of this issue.

Possession or Promotion of Child Pornography (Texas Penal Code § 43.261)

The law prohibits the possession or promotion of child pornography. This is typically the most obvious criminal charge related to sexting with a minor because it includes any visual material showing a child engaged in sexual conduct.

It’s crucial to understand that sexting with a minor or sending nude photos/videos can violate this law, even if the sender is also a minor. Specifically, it is a crime for a minor to “intentionally or knowingly” send an obscene photo/video or a photo/video of a minor engaging in sexual conduct if they know it was a minor. First-time offenses are punishable by a Class C misdemeanor, but the statute indicates that a first-time offender can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor under some circumstances.

Indecent Exposure (Texas Penal Code § 43.262)

Indecent exposure refers to exposing one’s private parts to another individual in a public setting or where the other person reasonably expects privacy. Sending photos or videos where the sender exposes their private parts can be seen as a violation.

Harassment (Texas Penal Code § 43.264)

Harassment, in this context, pertains to sending unsolicited, obscene, or threatening communications if they are meant to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another. Sexting becomes a legal issue under this statute if a person sends unwanted or harassing sexual messages to someone else.

Electronic Transmission of Visual Material Depicting Minors (Texas Penal Code § 43.261)

This is a lesser known but equally important sexting law. This makes it a crime for a minor to intentionally send or possess electronic messages containing sexually explicit material depicting a minor. It extends to include themselves.

Federal Sexting Laws

Sexting cases involving minors may begin at a state level but can escalate to federal crimes if they meet specific criteria. This usually relates to the production, distribution, reception, or possession of sexually explicit images of minors that cross state lines or when the actions violate specific federal statutes.

For instance, 18 U.S. Code § 2252A prohibits producing, distributing, or possessing child pornography. Suppose sexually explicit images of minors are sent or received across state lines or international borders, even via the internet or messaging apps. In that case, it can be subject to federal jurisdiction. Again, it’s worth noting that sexting with a minor can breach this statute, even if both parties involved are minors.

Sexting Charges Involving Minors in Practice

Imagine the following situation – Jennifer, a 16-year-old high school student, and Mark, another 16-year-old from the same school, start dating. One evening, Jennifer sends Mark an intimate photo of herself via text. Mark saves it on his phone.

A week later, after a fight, Mark shares the photo with a friend, who then circulates it to a few friends at school. Soon, the photo spreads to the entire school.

Possible Legal Implications for All Involved

  • Jennifer is understandably hurt and embarrassed. But even though she willingly took and shared the photo, she could still be charged under Texas Penal Code § 43.261 for the electronic transmission of certain visual material depicting a minor.
  • By saving and redistributing Jennifer’s photo, Mark can also be charged with possessing and promoting child pornography despite being a minor himself.
  • Any other student who received, saved, or further shared the photo can also face charges for possession or distribution of child pornography.

How to Protect Teens & Navigate Legal Issues

In our ever-changing digital era, where personal boundaries blur with the need for likes and validation, it’s paramount for parents to proactively guide their teens through the complexities of online and offline interaction. A vital part of this is educating them about the potential legal consequences of sexting.

It’s not just about the immediate repercussions, like school disciplinary actions or social stigma, but also the long-term damage that can alter lives. Parents should stress the significance of privacy, helping teens recognize that what may seem like a fleeting lapse or misplaced trust can lead to dire, unforeseen consequences.

Moreover, it’s critical to address legal trouble head-on and do whatever’s possible to mitigate the potential harm from charges related to sexting. Mistakes happen, and teens should be held accountable, but do not try to handle possible child sex crime charges alone.

If criminal charges related to sexting involving your child are likely, act fast and seek legal counsel. This helps protect your child’s rights as you work toward a resolution with the best possible guidance.

As a former prosecutor and experienced Texas sex crime defense attorney, Ned Barnett knows how cases involving sexting involving minors work and what can be done to remedy sensitive situations.

At The Law Offices of Ned Barnett, we understand what it’s like facing difficult accusations and have a proven track record of achieving positive outcomes in complex sex crime cases. Attorney Barnett is a fierce advocate for the accused and a careful strategist for each of his clients. Let us review what happened, advise you, and fight to clear your or your child’s name.

Call(713) 222-6767 for a free and confidential consultation.