Sexting occurs when people share sexually explicit or nude images of themselves or others through cell phones, the Internet, or other communication devices. While consenting adults can freely share pictures of themselves, a problem arises when teenagers sext. Because many teenagers aren’t adults, sharing nude or explicit images can be charged as a child pornography crime in some states.
In general, states approach sexting crimes in two ways. First, there are states that recognize that teens who share photos of themselves shouldn’t be treated like adults who share explicit images of young children. These states have created specific laws that apply when teenagers sext.
In other states, such as Iowa, legislatures have not adopted laws that specifically address teen texting. In these states, anyone who shares images of minors, including images they take of themselves, can be charged with more serious crimes.
For more information about sexting crimes in general, read Teen Sexting.
Anyone in Iowa who shows obscene materials to a child commits the crime of dissemination and exhibition of obscene materials to minors. “Obscene materials” include anything that depicts sex acts, a person’s genitals, or similar images.
Disseminating and exhibiting obscene materials to minors is categorized as a serious misdemeanor offense. (Iowa Code Annotated § 728.2.)
Anyone who causes or tries to cause a minor to engage in sexual acts, or simulated sexual acts, and who intends to record or photograph such acts, commits the crime of sexual exploitation of a minor. This crime also applies any time a person promotes any type of visual depiction of a minor engaging in a prohibited sexual act. Intentionally purchasing or possessing any visual depiction of a minor engaging in such an act is also a crime.
Depending on the circumstances, the sexual exploitation of a minor is either a Class C or D felony offense. (Iowa Code Annotated § 728.12.)
SEXTING AND FEDERAL LAW
Depending on the circumstances, sexting may also be a crime under federal law.
The Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 makes it illegal to produce, distribute, receive, or possess with intent to distribute any obscene visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Knowing possession of such material—without intent to distribute—is also a crime under the PROTECT Act. (18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a)(1).)
Federal law also criminalizes causing a minor to take part in sexually explicit conduct in order to visually depict that conduct. Parents who allow this behavior can also be prosecuted. (18 U.S.C. § 2251.)
It’s also a federal crime to use a computer to ship, transport, receive, distribute, or reproduce for distribution a depiction of a minor actually engaging in sexually explicit conduct, or any material that otherwise constitutes child pornography. It’s another federal crime to promote or solicit sexually explicit material involving a minor. (18 U.S.C. § § 2252, 2252A.)
But federal prosecution of juveniles for sexting may be unlikely. The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA) generally provides that, where possible, juveniles should be prosecuted in state—not federal—courts. (18 U.S.C. § 5032.)
Sexting-related crimes in Iowa carry a range of penalties. The specific penalty a court imposes will depend upon the offender’s age and the circumstances of the case.
Juvenile Penalties. A juvenile accused of committing a crime goes through the juvenile justice process, a system similar to, though significantly different than the adult criminal justice process. Juvenile courts have much broader discretion in determining the appropriate sentence for minors. Depending on the circumstances, the juvenile judge might sentence a teen convicted of a sexting-related crime to probation, diversion, placement with parents, payment of a fine, community service, or time in a juvenile detention center.
Adult Penalties. A person age 18 or older convicted of a sexting crime in Iowa faces a number of possible penalties. Anyone convicted of a serious misdemeanor faces a maximum fine of $1,875 and up to one year in jail, while someone convicted of a Class C felony faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. For more information about Iowa’s sentencing laws you can read Iowa Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences and Iowa Misdemeanor Laws by Class and Sentences.
Everyone facing possible criminal prosecution needs the advice of an experienced defense attorney. If you need advice about any criminal matter, including possible sexting crimes, talk to a lawyer who has represented clients in local courtrooms. Making the mistake of talking to the police or other officials without first consulting with an attorney can seriously compromise your legal situation.