Teen sexting is a phenomenon that has exploded in recent years with advances in mobile technology and image sharing apps. Although sexting—or sending sexually explicit images or text messages—is not illegal in and of itself, certain aspects of the act can make it a criminal offense.
When consenting adults “sext” each other, there is typically no criminal activity involved. While it may not be a good idea to send a nude photo of yourself to someone who could turn around and send it on to others or post it publicly on a website, it is not illegal per se.
However, both state and federal law describe child pornography as sexually explicit images of minors under the age of 18. This includes visual depictions of minors who are nude or semi-nude for the sexual stimulation of the viewer, and it includes images or videos of minors under the age of 18 engaged in masturbation or sexual activity.
This is where teens and adults get into legal trouble with sexting—the involvement of minors.
There is no Oklahoma law prohibiting sexting. However, there are multiple laws involving the possession and distribution of child pornography, soliciting minors via electronic media, and distributing obscene materials to minors. These are all sex crimes which may be related to sexting.
Most commonly, sexting is criminally prosecuted as possession of child pornography or distribution of child pornography. While proposed legislation may allow teens who sext among themselves to be charged only with a misdemeanor and fined, current law does not make exceptions for the distribution of child pornography between teens exchanging images of themselves.
In 21 O.S. 1024.1, the Oklahoma statutes define child pornography as follows:
“Child pornography” means and includes any visual depiction or individual image stored or contained in any format on any medium including, but not limited to, film, motion picture, videotape, photograph, negative, undeveloped film, slide, photographic product, reproduction of a photographic product, play or performance wherein a minor under the age of eighteen (18) years is engaged in any act with a person, other than his or her spouse, of sexual intercourse which is normal or perverted, in any act of anal sodomy, in any act of sexual activity with an animal, in any act of sadomasochistic abuse including, but not limited to, flagellation or torture, or the condition of being fettered, bound or otherwise physically restrained in the context of sexual conduct, in any act of fellatio or cunnilingus, in any act of excretion in the context of sexual conduct, in any lewd exhibition of the uncovered genitals in the context of masturbation or other sexual conduct, or where the lewd exhibition of the uncovered genitals, buttocks or, if such minor is a female, the breast, has the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer, or wherein a person under the age of eighteen (18) years observes such acts or exhibitions.
The law does not stipulate that the producer, the distributor, or the possessor of such images is himself or herself aged 18 or older. This means that teens engaging of sexting among themselves may be charged with a felony sex offense for distributing or possessing child pornography. In other words, a teen who snaps a sexually explicit image of himself or herself to send to a boyfriend or girlfriend could be charged with distributing child pornography—he or she would be both the perpetrator and the victim of the crime.
Of course, teen sexting is one issue, but sexting between minors and adults is another. It is important to remember that although the age of consent in Oklahoma is 16, child pornography involves minors under the age of 18. The relationship between an adult aged 18 or older and a 16 or 17-year-old teen may not be illegal, but taking or possessing sexually explicit images of the teen is illegal.
Under 21 O.S. 1021.2, it is a felony to procure a minor to participate in child pornography or to possess, manufacture, or distribute child pornography. The penalties for violating this statute are severe: a fine of up to $25,000 and a maximum of 20 years in prison.
If the teen involved in sexting is under the age of 16, and if he or she is participating in such activity with an adult aged 18 or older, additional charges may be filed against the adult. Sending sexually explicit images of oneself to a minor, enticing a minor to send sexually explicit images of himself or herself, or proposing sexual activity to a minor is typically charged as Lewd or Indecent Proposals or Acts to a Child Under 16 (21 O.S. 1123).
State law defines “lewd acts” and “indecent proposals” quite broadly. In fact, it is a crime to even look at a minor under 16 in “any lewd or lascivious manner.” The following stipulated lewd acts may be associated with sexting:
Lewd acts or proposals to a minor is a felony sex crime, and its penalties are harsh. If the victim is 13 to 15 years of age, the consequences of conviction range from 3 to 20 years in prison. If the victim is aged 12 or younger, however, the offense carries a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. A lewd acts conviction requires a person to register as a sex offender for life.
Whether you are an adult charged with lewd acts or possession of child pornography as a result of sexting with a minor or you are a parent whose child faces serious felony sex crime charges as a result of a foolish, impulsive decision, you must act quickly to secure quality legal representation. Do not speak to police without an attorney, and do not consent to a search of your cell phone or electronics without a warrant.
Call Coventon Criminal Defense at (405) 417-3842 or submit the online form for a free, confidential review of your case.