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Virginia State Crime Commission addresses sexting laws

Many children and teenagers in Virginia have their own cell phones and a number of them have used these devices to send and receive inappropriate photos of themselves and other young people. The act of sexting, or sending sexually suggestive photos via picture message, is fairly widespread according to several studies. A 2014 study from Drexel University showed that more than 50 percent of undergraduate students surveyed sent sexually explicit text messages as minors.

Many teens are unaware of the serious problems they could face if they are caught sexting. Virginia's current laws do not distinguish between sexting amongst teenagers and the professional production of child pornography. This means that a teenage boy asking his teenage girlfriend for a nude picture and child pornography are basically one in the same in the eyes of the law. Both are classified as criminal felonies and the accused could face up to 30 years in prison, depending on the age of the subject.

Because of the increase in sexting over the past few years, the Virginia State Crime Commission was forced to revisit the state's sexting laws earlier this month. Many have argued that issues involving sexting should be addressed by parents and teachers, not by those in the legal system.

However, the Commission decided not to recommend any legislative changes to Virginia's current child pornography laws. The Commission reported that they didn't have enough Virginia conviction data for juveniles to make any legislative recommendations at this time. The issue is far from settled. The Commission will need to examine the issue further and make changes in the future. In the meantime, young people should be aware that sexting can lead to serious long-term consequences.

Source: Fairfax Times, "Virginia sexting laws under scrutiny," Gregg MacDonald, Dec. 4, 2014

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