Sexting laws in Massachusetts fall under the criminal statutes concerning offenses against morality, decency and “good order.” This part of the criminal code details sex crimes.
However, there is no distinct law regarding the act of “sexting,” which is the sending, receiving, or forwarding of sexually explicit messages and images via cellphone or other digital device.
This is important legally because lack of a specific code violation means everyone who sexts risks being prosecuted under the commonwealth’s strict Child Pornography Laws —even minors themselves.
What Federal Laws Are There Regarding Sexting?
Under the Federal PROTECT Act of 2003, it is illegal to make, distribute, receive or possess with intent to distribute any obscene or pornographic visual representation of a minor. It is also a federal offense to knowingly possess such materials (even without intent to distribute.)
However, teens are less likely than adults to be charged under federal laws because the Juvenile Delinquency Act provides that, wherever possible, minors should be prosecuted in state courts.
Growing Sexting Population Are Teens
A recent study found that almost 40% of all teenagers have either posted a sexually suggestive image online, or sent a sext. Due to this growing trend, many district attorneys’ offices are warning the public about their goal of reducing the problem through prosecution.
In some jurisdictions, the DA’s office will bring charges against two or more teens involved in a sexting scandal in order to make clear that the behavior is not acceptable. And while young people may be willing participants at the time, there are concerns of more serious consequences should the images wind up in the wrong hands. Parents and guardians should seek legal advice if worried their teen may be a target for a sext crime investigation.
The criminal severity increases significantly when the receiver or solicitor of a sext depicting a minor is an adult. If an 18 year old asks a 17 year old for a nude image via text, the receipt of that content is a crime under the state’s child pornography laws and can be prosecuted as a felony with severe penalties, if convicted.
Sexting as Punishable Under Child Pornography Laws
Under MA child pornography laws, it is a felony offense to:
- Ask, coerce or entice a minor to pose or be shown in a state of nudity for the purpose of reproducing an image depicting such nudity. Penalty upon conviction is 10 – 20 years in prison and a $10,000 to $50,000 fine.
- Disseminate (as in forward an email or text) or distribute sexually explicit material of a minor. Conviction for this crime carries penalties of 10 – 20 years in prison and a $10,000 to $50,000 fine.
- Possess an image of a minor engaged in or simulating a sexually explicit act. Penalty if convicted of this crime is up to 5 years in prison, or 2.5 years in jail and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000 for a first offense.
If convicted for a felony sex crime under the above laws, the sentence will also mandate registration as a sex offender.
Contact Greg Oberhauser, a criminal defense attorney serving Middlesex County for a free consultation to discuss your charges.