Cybercrime is considered one of the critical adverse outcomes of the excessive use of technologies, which have become part of people’s daily lives around the world. The exposure to such adverse implications can lead to both financial and psychological issues, which is why the issue is high on the current agenda. Sexting represents a significant challenge to the global cybersecurity sphere because of the breach of the personal safety of those engaged in it. When applied in the context of interactions with minors, sexting leads to legal issues such as the prosecution for possession and dissemination of child pornography. It was chosen to study the topic in greater detail because of the significant gaps in research as well as legislation targeted at managing the problem.
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The term ‘sexting’ refers to the combination of ‘sex’ and ‘texting’ is defined as the sending, receiving, and forwarding sexually explicit messages and imagery of oneself or others through the use of digital technologies, including social networking (Ngo, Jaishankar, & Agustina, 2017). Individuals who are more likely to engage in the act have reported a higher frequency of abusing alcohol and drugs, engaging in binge drinking, suffering from depression, displaying impulsive behaviors, as well as having suicidal thoughts (Benotsch, Snipes, Martin, & Bull, 2013). When there is a problem of minors involved in the process of testing, the issue of consent comes into play, pointing to significant legal complications. Because of this, it is imperative to understand the prior and current legislation on sexting to reveal the key concerns associated with the issue and make conclusions regarding the evolution of the attitudes to this specific type of cybercrime.
If to look at older legislation concerning sexting, in 2010, the state of Connecticut enacted a statute that prescribed lesser penalties for sexting by minors of “images that otherwise would be treated as child pornography under Connecticut’s child pornography statutes” (Legal Information Institute, n.d., para. 7). The legislation was based on prior research on sexting as related to the involvement of adolescent individuals. It was revealed that 39% of teens reported sending a sexually suggestive text message, while 48% reported receiving them (US Department of Justice, 2010). This data shows that prosecution for a felony of minors for sharing imagery or text messages with individuals of the same group may be ineffective. Lesser penalties encourage some room for improvement and educating young people on the adverse outcomes that sexting can have later in life.
The 2017 Connecticut legislation “An Act Concerning “Sexting” by a Child’ furthered the considerations of sexting as related to minors’ involvement. The act removed the lower age limit associated with the previous law concerning specific acts of possessing and transmitting child pornography. Instead of the felony charge, individuals may be charged with a class A misdemeanor if they are aged 15 or younger, and the recipient is aged 17 or younger. In prior law, the class A misdemeanor charge applied only if the sender was between 13 and 15 years old and the subject of depiction, and the recipient was aged between 13 to 17.
Within the legislation, the act of sexting refers to the “knowing possession of a visual depiction of child pornography that the subject of the depiction knowingly sent to a recipient via electronic device […] and the knowing and voluntary transmission of a visual depiction of child pornography” (Connecticut General Assembly, 2017, p. 233). The critical difference between the past and recent legislation is the fact that the latter provides a more detailed look at the nature of sexting and cybercrime as well as the definition of age limits. The fact that minors can be involved in the voluntary transmission of their sexual imagery has significantly influenced the shaping of the current legislation. Removing the age limit associated with the offense shows that minors are highly engaged in the act and should be further educated on sexting laws and implications.
Sexting represents a relative law phenomenon on the law, with specific legislation dealing with sexting and minors not being present in a majority of US states. However, there is an all-encompassing trend facilitating the widespread adoption of sexting laws (O’Connor, Drouin, Yergens, & Newsham, 2017). At this time, there is no mutual agreement either internationally or in the US context regarding how sexting laws should be handled (Halder & Jaishankar, 2013). However, it is also important to note that in those states that have not adopted sexting laws, cybercrime may still be punished under the laws concerning child pornography. The current inconsistencies in legislation handling sexting and related issues lead to the highly varied results for sexting defendants, both among adults and minors. The examples of legislation adopted in Connecticut show that sexting is a concern as related to the digital activity of minors, with the frameworks associated with sexting and adult interactions being ill-defined. Further research in the area is needed to reach a consensus regarding the regulation of sexting and its implications for society.
Benotsch, E. G., Snipes, D. J., Martin, A.M., & Bull, S. S. (2013). Sexting, substance use, and sexual risk behavior in young adults. Journal of Adolescent Health, 52, 307-313.
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Connecticut General Assembly. (2017). Summary of 2017 public acts. Part I of II. Web.
Halder, D., & Jaishankar. (2013). Revenge porn by teens in the United States and India: A socio-legal analysis. International Annals of Criminology, 51(1-2), 85-111.
Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Connecticut.
Ngo, F., Jaishankar, K., & Agustina, J. (2017). Sexting: Current research gaps and legislative issues. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 11(2), 161-168.
O’Connor, K., Drouin, M., Yergens, N., & Newsham, G. (2017). Sexting legislation in the United States and abroad: A call for uniformity. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 11(2), 218-245.
US Department of Justice. (2010). The national strategy for child exploitation prevention and interdiction. A report to Congress.