DA: Time to Learn New Sexting Law Is Now

Published on August 14, 2017

Michael Rourke

GREELEY, Colo. (Weld County D.A.) – It’s an uncomfortable topic for many to discuss with teenagers. It always has been. Sex, or the infamous “Bird and the Bees” talk parents fear, is not an easy conversation to have.

It’s even more difficult for today’s parents, those guiding younger Millennials and the iGeneration. It’s no longer “just sex” or teens sneaking through their windows late at night we must worry about. The problem is far more reaching, far more impactful and far more harmful.

Sexting is the sending and receiving of nude images or videos through electronic means, such as a cellphone, tablet or computer; it’s how today’s teenagers are testing their hormones, and they can do it without leaving their bedroom.

Beyond the emotional impacts juvenile sexting creates, like cyberbullying, self-esteem issues or thoughts of suicide, it also raises legal implications. Legally, those under the age of 18 who send pornographic images of themselves or other juveniles are disseminating child pornography.

Until recently, the only way District Attorneys in Colorado could charge a juvenile with sexting was through Sexual Exploitation of a Child, a felony. It’s what we call the “thermonuclear option” because of the penalties, including a sex offender registry requirement and the inability to apply for college financial aid. We in the Weld District Attorney’s Office, along with many D.A.’s across the state, rarely charged juveniles with this offense for those reasons.

But that put us and school districts at an impossible crossroads: how do we deter teen sexting without having reasonable consequences in place? Enter House Bill 1302. Colorado’s bipartisan effort to tackle juvenile sexting will go into effect January 1, and with it comes many new changes.

Among several scenarios, the new law addresses those juveniles who willfully exchange nude images – like a boyfriend and girlfriend might do – obtain a nude image of another juvenile without permission or coerce or bully a juvenile into sending nude material.

It also creates four new charging options: a civil infraction, petty offense and class one and two misdemeanors. Depending on what’s violated, penalties begin at a $50 fine or a required education program regarding the risks and consequences of sexting and escalate to 18 months in a community youth corrections facility and up to a $5,000 fine.

The biggest punishment of them all, at least in the mind of a teenager, is the confiscation of their cellphone, which is how most teenagers sext. Yes, you read that correctly. If a sexting investigation is opened and evidence is found, the phone or device could be taken by authorities and possibly never given back. Ever.

Again, this is child pornography. We can never be sure, even after wiping the phone, the images or videos are completely gone.

Parents, schools administrators, and guardians, now is the time to teach your teenagers about this sexting law and its consequences. The January implementation is fast approaching. In talking to various school resource officers, we’ve learned sexting is a big problem in our schools. One sexting event we know of included nearly 50 students.

Come January, schools will have no other choice but to contact law enforcement. Based on statistics from resource officers, those phones could be ringing off the hook.

Winter is coming. Tell your kids.

Michael Rourke
Weld County District Attorney

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