You know those really annoying slide shows you have to sit through sometimes in school designed to scare the bejesus out of you before you do something stupid? Don’t drive drunk, don’t have sex, don’t do drugs, that kind of thing?
Well, once upon a time, I had to do one of those presentations for teen sexting. More specifically, sending nude photographs. I’ve seen a lot of tweets and statuses about certain celebrities leaking their own nudes as an empowerment thing rather than having someone else leak them under circumstances beyond their control. But a few months ago, a situation came up a few months ago that made me realize a lot of minors don’t realize the consequences of sending naked pictures of themselves.
I’m not talking about the social implications. I’m not talking about the fact that people could share them or the person you’re sharing them with might not be who they say they are. I’m not even talking about the popular shame-aspects. I’m talking about the legal ramifications.
Now, I can’t speak to states other than Georgia, but Georgia has this law about minors. They can’t consent to sexual activity, including sending nude photographs of themselves. That law is there to protect those minors who get sexually involved with adults in a world where all too often, we blame the victim. According to Georgia law, minors cannot consent. Period.
But sometimes laws can turn against the very people they are designed to protect. A minor in possession of their own nude photograph has technically committed a misdemeanor under Georgia law (Georgia Annotated Code section16-12-100). Sending that photograph to another minor is a second misdemeanor (Georgia Annotated Code section 16-12-100.1). This, by the way, means the person receiving the pictures (assuming they were sent consensually) has committed a misdemeanor as well by simply being in possession of the photograph. If that person passes the photo along to someone else without the explicit permission of the person photographed, they’ve committed a felony according to Georgia law. That felony can be reduced to a misdemeanor if it’s determined that the person sending the photos to other people didn’t have malicious intent, but a court has to determine that after the accusation has been made.(Georgia Annotated Code section 16-12-100.2)
Minors possessing nude photographs of themselves without any intention to distribute them are also in violation of federal laws under the protect act (18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a)(1).). If a person asks a minor to take photographs of themselves can also be prosecuted and parents who allow their minor to take nude (or photographs of a sexual nature) of themselves can be charged as well (18 U.S.C. § 2251.). Technically, the very act of sending nudes of minors (even if they’re of yourself) using technology is considered child pornography, which opens up a whole new set of charges (18 U.S.C. §§ 2252, 2252A.). It’s unlikely a teen who sent naked photographs of their own volition would ever be charged with federal offenses (they prefer to keep these things at the state level), it could happen (18 U.S.C. § 5032.).
So, in other words, if you are under the age of eighteen, don’t take naked photos of yourself. Not because you should be ashamed of your body, not because it’s so easy to lose control of a digital image, not because 10 years from now an employer could uncover the photo on your facebook, or any of the billion reasons people like to throw at teens. Don’t do it because you could end up defending your choice in court. It happens. A lot. Really. And definitely, under no circumstances, ask another teen for those images or god forbid, send a picture of another minor to another person. You’re breaking all kinds of laws.
This PSA has been brought to you by someone who is really glad this wasn’t a thing when she was a teenager quaking in terror of the day my child becomes of a teenager.