The popularity of sexting continues to increase amongst the adult population in the United States. According to CBS News, a research project was conducted at Drexel University with U.S. adult residents between the ages of 18 and 82. Of the 870 participants, 88% admitted to sexting once, and 82% admitted to sexting within the past year. While this study proves that adult texting is quite popular, sexting among minors has actually decreased between 2008 and 2013. Nonetheless, minors are still sexting, making it a criminal act.
The question of is sexting a sex crime amongst adults in Arizona varies from case to case because the sexting act can be linked to other offenses, which then can make sexting a crime. Generally speaking, sexting between two consenting adults is not a crime in the State of Arizona. However, if either one of the involved parties does not give consent to the sexting act, charges like harassment, emotional distress and obscenity can be filed. Harassment examples of adult sexting are someone who sends unwanted explicit messages and images to someone, or someone who asks or demands nude pictures or messages from someone.
To be clear on the definition of the term, sexting is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone. While this is the exact definition of the word in the dictionary, sexting is not limited to cell phones. Sexting can be done via e-mail, instant messenger chat rooms, and social media as well. It is a combination of the two words; sex and text. Sexting can be between a married couple who exchange sexy messages and pictures to entice their spouse and give them something spicy to look at to get them through the day. It could also be a man and woman who just met and are mutually attracted to one another. They may want to consensually exchange suggestive pictures and messages for both to enjoy at his or her discretion.
However, there are other forms of sexting that are seen as betraying, perverse, and demoralizing. When minors are involved, the act is criminal, regardless of the conditions. General examples of sexting gone wrong is an exchange of pictures and messages between adults and minors, someone sending sexual messages and photos to someone without the recipient’s consent, or someone using sexting as a coercion tactic, like blackmail. In determining criminality (with the exception of juvenile involvement), this is where it can get murky because the act of sexting can easily spill over into other issues.
In the State of Arizona, any communication of a sexual nature having to do with a minor is an offense, and sexting laws in Arizona are mainly to protect the interests of minors. In fact, there is a specific law against teen sexting referred to as ARS 8-309. This law prohibits a minor to view, receive or send any sexually explicit material of another minor via electronic communication devices, including but not limited to cell phones, computers, and tablets. If both parties are minors and one of them distributes the material to one person, the sexting act is deemed as a petty offense that is punishable by a fine. If the image or message is sent to more than one person, it is a Class 3 misdemeanor.
If there is another similar offense, the new charge is a Class 2 misdemeanor. If the juvenile is a recipient and deletes or reports the material he or she has received, they have not violated the law and will not be penalized. Of course, if either of the participating parties is an adult interacting with a minor in any such conduct, the adult is held responsible, and it is then a felony punishable by jail time and registration as a sex offender for the rest of his or her life.
Child pornography is a criminal act, and anyone exchanging explicit messages and pictures with a minor can be charged with possession of child pornography. According to the Children’s Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) of the United States Department of Justice, it is a form of sexual exploitation of a minor. More and more states are implementing harsh criminal penalties against sexting due to the child pornography factor.
If we set aside the heinous act of child exploitation as we know it, possession of child pornography can also include a young couple who is sexually active. One is 22 years old; the other is 17 years old. The 22-year-old can be charged with possession of child pornography regardless of if he or she is the sender or the receiver of the material. They can also be charged with child endangerment and many other things because what the court deems as a child includes minors up to 19 of age.
Before bringing everything together, there needs to be a clear understanding of what the terms are, and how sexting is a factor.
Sexploitation– Sexploitation is a word combination of sex and exploitation. Sexploitation was a term previously used to describe a form of media, usually film. In the content of sexting, however, the word has taken on a different connotation. Sexting (consensual or not) has the possibility to make anyone vulnerable to becoming a victim of sexploitation. The official criminal charge title is also sexual exploitation of a minor.
Sextortion– Like sexploitation, sextortion is a merging of two words: sex and extortion. Sextortion is blackmailing by using sexually explicit pictures or messages of someone for monetary and/or sexual favors.
These three terms can go hand in hand. If the act of sexting is taking place and the material is mishandled by sharing without authorization or usage for monetary gain, it results in conditions of the other two. Both parties may be of consensual age, but that does not mean that there is no legal penalty for sexting. Criminal sexting can happen between adults in a variety of ways.
Some examples are by posting intimate pictures on social media websites without the other party’s consent, or threatening someone with explicit images of him or her for financial gain.
In summary, sexting amongst minors in the State of Arizona is a crime without question. The classification ranges between a petty offense and a Class 3 misdemeanor. Adult sexting is not a crime when all parties involved consent to it. However, adult sexting can become a criminal act when one of the involved parties did not consent. The sexting act can then result in possible charges of harassment (which, in the State of Arizona, can be deemed a Class 1 misdemeanor under Section 13-2921 of Arizona state law, as well as extortion (sextortion, if you will), defamation of character, obscenity, and other criminal charges.
These charges can be severely punishable by law and can even result in imprisonment and fines, depending on the nature of the case. With adult texting in the State of Arizona, it is not so much the sexting act itself, as it is the motives and results of the act to make it a crime.
Anyone that has been suspected of sexting or sexual exploitation of a minor should speak with our attorneys immediately. These charges can have immense, life-changing consequences. David Michael Cantor is a Board Certified Sex Crimes Specialist and is well known all over Arizona as being a highly experienced criminal defense attorney.
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