Cell phones. We check them to kill time while in line at the grocery store. We use them to book flights, order food, call our loved ones, check the weather. The cellular phone has become an integral part of our lives in a way that past generations never imagined.
With this rise of technology in the 21st century — which allows us to hold the entire world wide web and countless contacts in the palm of our hands — we pass it onto our children. We want to know that they are home safely from school, when they will be leaving their friend’s house, or where they’ll be sleeping over. And with an increase of teens with cell phones, comes an issue that concerns parents and raises questions: teen sexting.
Teen Sexting Laws
Studies have shown that within the past several years, teen cell phone use has become increasingly widespread. Nearly three-quarters of teens either possess or have access to a smartphone. And while sexting may seem to some a harmless adolescent behavior, it is important to note that in many states, it is actually a serious child pornography offense, regardless of whether or not specific legislation exists to properly address it.
The state of Colorado defines sexting – not necessarily teen sexting – as “Sending nude, sexual, or otherwise explicit images via cell phone, through Internet messaging, or by similar means.” The range of texts that could fall beneath this category is incredibly vast. Sending a sexy comment or a nude photo, as well as many other interpretations, could be covered under this definition. For adults, sexting is not typically considered a crime, but when persons under the age of 18 are involved, it becomes more serious.
In the past, Colorado hasn’t really had much on the books in the way of teen sexting laws, and this has resulted in teenagers facing serious charges – punishments that do not fit the crime. Juvenile penalties for sexting for those under the age of 18 generally involve probation, house arrest, a fine, and in some cases, placement with a county social services department, or detention in a juvenile facility. For those above the age of 18 sexting passes into the territory of the age of consent, and if one party involved is beneath the age of 18 regardless of consensual communication, it can get sticky. Depending on the circumstances, adults can face up to 12 years in prison or fines up to $750,000. In some cases, depending on the age of those involved and the nature of the crime, sexting can also stray into a gray area that includes sexual assault, for which the punishments tend to the extreme side.
Colorado’s Recent Sexting Law
Lawmakers recently gathered to discuss a motion that would lessen the punishments for minors involved in sexting. Up until this point, Colorado state law dictated that anyone possessing a nude photo of someone under the age of 18 on their phone could be charged with felony child exploitation. This was a response to a scandal in Canon City in 2015 that involved more than 100 high school students with sexually explicit photos of other teens.
Because sexting is quite common among adolescents, legislators were interested in altering the law so that teens involved in sexting could avoid ending up with felony charges and having to register as a sex offender. This new measure created several new crimes for those under the age of 18 convicted of sexting and saved the worst penalties for cases where the sexual advances were not consensual, reaching a compromise that makes more sense in the cases of teen sexting.
Breaking Down the New Teen Sexting Law
As of early 2017, under the new teen sexting law, House Bill 1302, it is considered a crime to distribute explicitly sexual images without the depicted juvenile’s consent. If the person sharing the image were under 18, it would classify as a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor under Colorado’s Unlawful Sexual Contact code would be two years in jail.
For those at least 14 years of age possessing a nude photo of another juvenile who is within 4 years of the offender’s age against the victim’s permission would be committing a petty offense.
In the event that the sexual solicitations were NOT consensual and strayed into definitions of juvenile harassment and bullying, the charges still lean to the serious side, with up to 12 years in prison and lifetime sex-offender registration requirements, depending on the judge’s discretion and how egregious the offense was considered.
Teen Sexting Awareness – How To Discuss Teen Sexting With Your Child
- Don’t wait until an incident occurs to open a dialogue with your child concerning the dangers of sexting. Set aside a time to openly and calmly discuss your child’s phone use habits.
- Remind them that once they’ve sent a photo, it’s no longer under their control and could be distributed to anyone. Ask them how they would feel if they knew their teachers, friends’ parents or their entire school saw the photo.
- If your child has been on the receiving end of a nude photo, remind them that they can cut the humiliation short for others by simply deleting it then and there.
As a result of Bill 1302, fewer teens will face felony charges and have to register as sex offenders. Familiarizing yourself with the legal boundaries and having an open and honest discussion with your teen about what may or may not be at stake with what seems like harmless teen behavior is a great place to start.
Understanding what is involved for your teen or young adult when it comes to sexting in the state of Colorado can help prevent scary situations, and in the event that something did happen, having access to a lawyer familiar with Colorado’s sexual assault and latest sexting laws can be highly beneficial.
What Does This Mean?
Although the things discussed above is what the legislature intends, the application of these laws look very different. Law enforcement usually does not charge teenagers with a crime for sending sexually explicit photos. They are almost always considered the “victim” in cases like this. This is true even if it is found out that the teen sending these photos has lied about his or her age. This is extremely concerning for people who cannot verify someone’s age over the phone or the internet. There is almost no context where you can receive a picture of someone underage and you won’t get in trouble. If you are found with photos of underage people, you will surely be charged with exploitation of a child or possessing child pornography, both of which are serious felonies.
It seems fun and harmless to send and receive nude photos from a stranger. It is important to realize you are at greater risk by receiving them, then you are sending them. This does not mean every teen that sends a nude pic is going to get away with it. A lot of this depends on the context. However, we have yet to see anyone get in trouble for sending a photo, but we have seen a lot of people get in trouble for receiving them.
It is best to save your photos for beautiful scenery and your adorable pet. It is better to protect yourself and the ones you care about by not sending or receiving sexually explicit photographs from anyone. Even if they tell you they are over 18. This is a grey area in the law. Law enforcement always errs on the side of caution by protecting the more “vulnerable party.”
In the event that you or someone you know is in jeopardy or has been accused of sexting/sexual assault, or is facing violations of Colorado Age of Consent laws, contact the Law Offices of Colin Breese for a free consultation.