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My kid is accused of sexting. How serious is this?

If you are asking yourself this question know that you are not alone. Sexting, or sending sexually explicit messages, images, or videos, is not uncommon amongst teens. Findings from a recent study published in the prestigious Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics reviewed 39 studies and over 110,000 participants on this matter. These medical experts found that based on the most recent data in 2018 between 14.8% of teens send and 27.4% of teens receive these types of messages. Researchers with the study note that the practice was becoming more common, so the numbers are likely higher today.

How serious are the consequences? The answer depends on the state.

The penalties that come with allegations of sexting vary depending on the state. This is because the laws that apply in these situations are generally state laws. Colorado lawmakers have tried to ease reporting with the goal of helping to reduce the prevalence of these types of messages.

Before January of 2018, in many cases state law required a prosecutor to charge a minor accused of these types of actions with a felony. This was true whether the message was a consensual communication or not. This is no longer the case. Prosecutors now have more flexibility and can take the participant’s age, motives behind the message, frequency of contact, and past behavior into consideration before deciding on an appropriate course of action.

If, for example, a 15-year-old sends a nude photo of another 15-year-old knowing the subject of the photo expected the photo to remain private and the sender has no previous record of similar actions, the prosecutor could charge the sender with a Class 2 Misdemeanor. If the prosecutor has evidence the sender forwarded the photo in an effort to embarrass the subject of the photo, the prosecutor could increase the charges to a Class 1 Misdemeanor which would come with more serious penalties. Although not as serious as a felony, a conviction for a misdemeanor can show up on the child’s criminal record and can serve as an obstacle to future employment and scholarship opportunities.

How can I help my kid through this?

There are affirmative defenses to these charges, or arguments that can reduce the severity of penalties. If a kid realizes what they did was wrong and tried to delete the image within 72 hours of viewing, if the kid was somehow coerced or otherwise threatened, these can all serve to help the kid build a defense. Even if convicted, you can help your child find a path that can lead to expunging the record. This means the court essentially erases the conviction from their criminal record. One example is the completion of an alternative program or their sentence.

It is also important to note two more things. First, the law around these allegations is always evolving. It is important to review any changes that could impact your case. Second, you do not have to go through this process alone. Legal counsel can review the allegations and help build a defense, guiding you and your child through the process while advocating for your interests and better ensuring your rights are protected.