Sexting Could Land a Quarter of American Teenagers in Jail for Child Pornography

The recent case of 24-year-old English student Richard O’Dwyer, who could face up to 10 years in an American jail for copyright offenses, is highlighting the link between new technologies and legislation – as technology becomes more accessible and easier to use to a larger number of younger users.

And now, the spotlight is in an activity practiced by millions of young Americans every day: text messaging. A July 2012 Pedriatics & Adolescent Medicine study found that as much as quarter of American teenagers “sext,” or send fully-nude pictures of themselves through email or text messages, which could hold them liable for child pornography in some states that do not define inappropriate sexual behavior as only between an adult and a minor – effectively branding curious teenagers as pedophiles.      

The study also found that 77% of girls and of 82% boys who sexted – regardless of their ethnicity and income level – were sexually active, a fact that could be problematic for these youngsters depending on their state of residence’s “consent laws” (the age in which a person is “legally allowed” to have sex) which varies according to states, ranging from 16-years-old to 21-years-old.

Additionally, these potential child pornography prosecution cases could be much easier to execute with the very help of the device the potential suspect uses to send and receive the evidence, namely the nude pictures and videos. Since all emails and text messages sent and received are registered in all devices at all times, the abundance of evidence would accelerate the proceedings in court.

So, in addition to the obvious risks of being bullied or sexually abused if these pictures end up in the wrong hands, sexually active young users of technology have to deal with the new threat of law enforcement potentially charging them with offenses that – in the worst case scenario – could land them in jail for several months or years; or could leave them with a criminal record which potentially could hurt their career prospects in the future.

If the Richard O’Dwyer case, who is likely to be extradited to the U.S. despite not having been charged in his native England, can teach us something is that authorities are cracking down on the misuse of new technologies with an intensity never seen since the old days of Napster.    

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