For lovers, there are many romantic ways to celebrate the holidays — exchanging heartfelt gifts and treating each other to nights out on the town, or enjoying intimate nights in. If one of your gifts this year is the gift of yourself on social media, you may wind up being the one surprised at the outcome instead of your significant other.
Apps and social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat have made it incredibly easy to share your every thought (and outfit) through selfies, pictures and posts shared with an audience of your choosing. For the romantically inclined, sharing frequent photos is one nice way to keep in touch throughout the day or during times when you’re apart, but crossing the line from a sweet smiling selfie to a more intimate photo could land you in trouble with the law.
Sharing nude photos and videos is considered pornography under federal law, and despite the alleged privacy and confidentiality of social media sites, local and federal law enforcement officials have been cracking down on cases of inappropriate or sexually motivated messages and images of underage persons shared through these sites.
Sending messages about sex or photos of genitals and sexual images is more commonly known as “sexting” among today’s teens and young adults, and it’s increasing in popularity even as law enforcement responds with harsher penalties and charges for minors who engage in it.
Sending underage individuals (meaning persons under 18 years old) porn or keeping it on a shared site is considered distribution (even if those pictures are selfies, if the person is under 18) and is a second- degree crime that can result in 5 to 10 years of prison time, if the individual is convicted. Coaxing or causing a minor to create and send porn is a first-degree crime of manufacturing child porn. Anyone convicted of that crime will face a sentence of between 10-20 years and 85% of that sentence must be served without parole eligibility. Additionally, any type of child porn conviction requires Megan’s law registration.
Snapchat as Child Pornography
Having, distributing, taking or selling obscene images or videos of a minor involved in sexual activity or posed in a sexual manner is considered child pornography, and for some young teens, what they consider to be romantic or harmless Snapchats and posts might be in serious violation of these laws. Anyone under the age of 18 is considered a minor, so most high schoolers fall under this heading. Even worse, anyone who is over the age of 18, but dating a minor (even if that minor is 17), may face penalties or charges for engaging in sexting with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend.
If you’re convicted of soliciting, viewing or sharing child pornography, the penalties are severe. In most cases, there is no leniency for being involved in a romantic relationship with the minor, even if you’re a teen yourself. By law, these sexts are illegal and you can be held responsible. Possession of child pornography is a third-degree crime, and you could spend up to five years in prison and face fines of up to $15,000. You may also be required to register as a sex offender, and that designation can have a lasting impact on your future, as well as your personal and professional opportunities.
Modern dating is a vastly different world and all the technology and social media available has changed how we view our relationships and how we connect with other people. In some cases, the law doesn’t necessarily have the means or the scope to encompass these changes, and many pay the price for their seemingly innocent actions.
For more information on social media sharing and child pornography laws, contact a New Jersey sexual assault lawyer at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA today.