"Sexting" – the practice of sending nude photographs via text message.
Technological advances lead to increased convenience but can also generate new challenges to parenting and law enforcement. The advances in cell phone technology which include ready access to cameras (still and video), increased digital storage capabilities and quicker Internet access through smart phones, have allowed the practice of "sexting" to reach unfathomable popularity, especially among teenagers. Recently, this surprisingly common phenomenon has garnered nationwide attention and concern, especially by parents of middle and highschool aged teens. According to a survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, roughly 20% of teens surveyed admit to having sent nude or semi-nude photographs via text messaging.
Recent events involving celebrities both young and old, have demonstrated one of the practical dangers of "sexting," the publication of the photographs. More importantly though, what many don't stop and consider before "sexting", is the fact that they may be committing a serious crime. More and more cases are being reported where "sexting" is landing unsuspecting teenagers in jail or at the very least facing a serious criminal charges. Nude photographs of anyone under the age of 18 years old can be considered child pornography. Sending of those nude photographs constitutes distribution of child pornography. These offenses can be, and at times are, charged in federal court, the last place that a young adult wants to be.
The act of "sexting" can also qualify as a criminal offense in the state courts of Iowa. Just recently, the Iowa Supreme Court, in the case of State v. Canal weighed in on the topic, explaining how "sexting" can amount to dissemination and exhibition of obscene material to a minor. Iowa Code section 728.2, makes it a serious misdemeanor for anyone, regardless of age, to knowingly disseminate or exhibit obscene material to a minor. "Obscene material" is defined as: "Any material depicting or describing the genitals, sex acts, masturbation, excretory functions or sadomasochistic abuse which the average person, taking the material as a whole and applying contemporary community standards with respect to what is suitable material for minors, would find appeals to the prurient interest and is patently offensive; and the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, scientific, political, or artistic value." In other words, if its "dirty" or "sexually explicit" it's likely considered "obscene materials." While there are defenses based upon the content of the photographs and intentions behind the sending and receipt of the pictures, the jury has considerable discretion in making the ultimate determination of whether or not the materials are "obscene." While the Canal case involved an 18 year old defendant, who's conviction was upheld, the prohibition of disseminating obscene materials to minors does not have a minimum age. Thus, teenagers that are "sexting" each other, even though both are under the age of 18, are still technically violating Iowa law, in addition to possible federal statutes.
Teenage friendships and romantic relationships tend to be the most unpredictable and volatile of all. Factor in immature teenage judgment and what may start out as mere "fun and games" or natural curiosity, can quickly become devastatingly destructive. It is also worth noting, that publication or dissemination of the photographs, even to the general public, can also result in criminal and most definitely civil liability. Life-long embarrassment, criminal prosecution and jail time are just a start to the possible negative life lessons that could be learned from this practice. A little preventative education and common sense could go a long way to avoid unnecessary life-altering consequences.