Faculty Scholarship

Sexting and Teenagers: OMG R U Going 2 Jail???

Catherine Arcabascio


Catherine Arcabascio, Sexting and Teenagers: OMG R U Going 2 Jail???, 16 Richmond Journal of Law & Technology 10 (2010). Sexting is a relatively recent practice engaged in by the young, and sometimes not-so-young, and foolish. "Sexting" is "the practice of sending or posting sexually suggestive text messages and images, including nude or semi-nude photographs, via cellular telephones or over the Internet." While sexting can and does occur between and among people of any age, the real concerns are with teenagers who are sexting. According to a 2008 study by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20% of teens between the ages of thirteen and nineteen have sent or posted nude or semi-nude digital photos of themselves. Of the 22% of teen girls that reported doing so, 11% of these girls were between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. When asked whether they have seen nude or semi-nude photos that were not intended to be shared with them, 25% of teen girls and 33% of teen boys answered this question affirmatively. Recently, law enforcement officers in several states have arrested teenagers who have sent sexually explicit photographs of themselves, as well as the recipients of those photographs. These teenagers have been either charged or threatened with charges of child pornography, and appellate courts have upheld convictions against teenagers on these charges. Consequently, some of those teens have been required to register as sex offenders, a status that will stay with them for decades. This result leads to serious questions about the intent of child pornography statutes, the breadth of prosecutorial discretion, and the potential erroneous use of the criminal justice system to address what some believe would be better handled through educational programs and better parenting.