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Understanding the frequency and dangers of sexting

When charges are filed against juveniles who have committed crimes in Virginia, one that isn't often seen as a serious violation of the law or even a criminal act is sexting. A teenager might believe there's nothing wrong or illegal about sending explicit messages to his or her friends. However, the issue is increasingly prevalent and can lead to serious problems down the road. In some instances, it can lead to child pornography charges. Knowing the laws and ramifications of sexting can help juveniles avoid the problem altogether or assist in lodging a defense when charges are filed.

With the increased use of smartphones with powerful cameras and video capabilities, as well as the number of websites that are dedicated to social media and sharing, there are almost limitless ways to interact with others. Sexting - the act of sharing explicit images - is happening frequently. Studies have shown that 20 percent of teens between the age of 13 and 19 have sent images of themselves with little or no clothing. 22 percent of teen girls and 18 percent of teen boys have admitted to partaking in the practice. 11 percent of girls age 13 to 16 have confessed to sending sexts.

There are a variety of reasons that teens indulge in sexting. 51 percent of teenage girls say that it is because of pressure exerted from males. 18 percent of boys say that they were pressured by females. 23 percent of females and 24 percent of males attribute it to peer pressure. In some circumstances, these underage people might be under the impression that they're communicating with someone in their own age group or slightly older, when in reality they're sending these images to someone who is significantly older and might be using these images as a means of exploitation.

Depending on the age of the teen, the penalties for a conviction on child pornography charges can be as serious as 30 years in prison. It also can be a felony that will affect a person's life forever, as he or she may be required to register as a sex offender. In some situations, the act of sexting is one that is undertaken out of ignorance to its consequences. In others, it's thought to be an innocent act. Given the laws of the state, there is the chance that charges will be filed. When there are charges for sexting, it's important to have experienced legal assistance to formulate a defense.

Source: Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, "Sexting," accessed on Nov. 15, 2014

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