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When does sexting become a crime in Pennsylvania?

As a teen in Pennsylvania today, you likely have easy access to the Internet, which may allow you to take and share personal photos, sometimes without your parents’ knowledge. However, if these images contain nudity, or are sexual in nature, you could face serious criminal charges. In the state of Pennsylvania, transmitting sexually explicit images, also known as sexting, is a crime if you are under the age of 18-years-old.

Sexting, or sex texting, is sending or receiving suggestive or nude photographs by text message, or using the Internet. This may include sending a nude or nearly nude pictures; text messages that refer to sex acts or propose sex; or videos showing simulated sex, sex acts or nudity. Like others in your age group, you may see this as a way to flirt, or to gain popularity.

If you are under the age of 18-years-old, Pennsylvania state law prohibits you from transmitting sexually explicit images. As such, you cannot knowingly disseminate, distribute, publish or transmit electronic communication that contains sexually explicit images of yourself. Furthermore, the law prohibits you from knowingly possessing or viewing such images of other minors who are at least 12-years-old.

With few exceptions, you may be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor if you send or publish messages that contain sexually explicit images of other minors. In cases when such images are captured or sent without the other minor’s consent, you could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor. The punishments for these offenses include fines, jail time and, in some cases, compelled participation in an education program.

This post has provided a broad overview of sexting, and the associated penalties, in the state of Pennsylvania. It is important to keep in mind, however, that each case is unique. As such, you should take this post only as general information, and should not consider it as legal advice.

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Gregory R. Gifford
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