Sexting Presents New Challenges for Regulators, Porn Sites

Oct 6, 2011 6:00 AM PST

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — As more and more kids engage in sexting, which is the act of emailing or posting their racy photos online, authorities and adult websites are facing a new set of challenges.

Authorities are trying to balance the kids’ 1st Amendment rights with child porn laws. Just this week, Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin opened an investigation into a porn site where racey underage images of local Pennsylvania high school students were posted.

 “We recognize that there has been a great deal of interest in what already has been reported regarding a potential case of sexting and images on a website,” Martin said.

Adult industry attorney Larry Walters told XBIZ that 20 percent of high school kids admit to some form of sexting.  That means many more are actually participating, but will not admit it in a survey due to legal concerns. He said some of these kids have been prosecuted and jailed for child pornography charges and end up as registered sex offenders. 

“Existing child pornography laws fail to recognize the changes in technology that have occurred in the past decade,” Walters said.

“The lawmakers never anticipated that a ‘child’ would be voluntarily producing and transmitting the child pornography. These devastating punishments meted out against teenagers have turned a large portion of the young population against authority, and against law enforcement that is supposed to be there to protect them.  We have turned laws that are designed to protect kids into a weapon against them.”

In most states, Walters said, sexting by people under 18 can result in prosecution for child pornography offenses, and sex offender registration, if convicted.  In some states, like Florida, the law has changed, and sexting is a misdemeanor, or a civil infraction resulting in a fine and community service. 

“There should be some consequence associated with sexting, to discourage the activity by teenagers, but prosecution under child pornography laws is overkill,” Walters said.

When it comes to the adult sites, Walters said the biggest concern for webmasters is the appearance of teen sexting images on user-generated content sites. 

“Given the vast amount of amateur erotic imagery being produced in modern times, it is extremely difficult to weed out underage material from user-generated content sites,” Walters said.

“This is particularly true if the operator is not obtaining 18 U.S.C. §2257 records relating to the content posted on the sites.  So the best way to avoid this problem is to obtain age documentation associated with any erotic imagery, even if the website’s business model is technically exempted by Section 2257 regulations.  Otherwise, the webmaster takes a chance that underage material may appear on the site, which can result in serious civil and criminal consequences.”

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