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, and more. The cellular phone has truly become an integral part of our lives in a way that past generations never imagined.
With this rise of this technology, there has also been an increase in parenting-related and legal challenges. Cellphones are a double-edged sword that can help keep tabs on your children or potentially expose them to threats. With an increase of teen cell phone usage comes an issue that concerns parents and raises questions – teen sexting.
What Is “Teen Sexting” In Colorado?
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 harmless adolescent behavior to some, it is a serious child pornography offense in many states, 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.
“Teen Sexting” vs “Sexual Assault” in CO
In the past, Colorado hasn’t really had much on the books in the way of teen sexting laws, which has resulted in teenagers facing serious charges and punishments that do not fit the crime.
Juvenile penalties (under the age of 18) generally involve probation, house arrest, and a fine. 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. So, if one party involved is under the age of 18, regardless of consensual communication, it gets tricky. Depending on the circumstances, adults can face up to 12 years in prison or fines up to $750,000.
Depending on the age of those involved and the nature of the crime, sexting can also stray into a gray area that involves sexual assault. Punishments tend to be on the extreme side for these offenses.
Colorado’s Recent Sexting Law
In 2017, Lawmakers 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 in response to a 2015 scandal in Canon City that involved more than one-hundred 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. Basically, reaching a compromise that makes more sense in the cases of teen sexting.
Breakdown of CO’s New Teen Sexting Law
Under the 2017 teen sexting law (House Bill 1302), it is considered a crime to distribute sexually explicit 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 lean to the serious side, with up to 12 years in prison and lifetime sex-offender registration requirements. The severity of punishment depends on the judge’s discretion and how egregious the offense was considered.
Types of Sexting Behaviors
The severity of penalties will vary from case to case. The following penalties exist for some juvenile teens who engage in sexting behavior:
Posting is still sexting in Colorado. This crime is usually a Class 2 Misdemeanor; however, it can be upgraded to a Class 1 Misdemeanor if the teenager who’s posting or sharing the image has a criminal record or was believed to have harmful intent.
Juvenile teenagers who are charged with possession will usually be facing petty offenses. However, if the person holds 10 or more images depicting three or more people, the state can upgrade the petty offense to a Class 2 Misdemeanor.
Exchanging images comes with the least severe penalties. Colorado usually charges teenagers with civil infractions in these cases. The teen may be required to participate in an educational program, such as the Colorado School Safety Resource Center. There is usually a $50 fine associated with the charge, but it can often be waived upon completion of the program.
Adult Penalties for Sexting in Colorado
The aforementioned behaviors can be considered crimes for teens 18 and older, too; however, the penalties become much harsher. A teen at or over the age of 18 who is charged with a sexting-related crime in Colorado will most likely be charged with sexual exploitation.
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 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 are what the legislature intends, the application of these laws looks 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 than you are by 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.