With the ubiquity of cellphones these days, especially among teenagers, “sexting”—sending nude or sexually suggestive photos by text message—is on the rise.
Some states have enacted laws against sexting that occurs between teenagers, with penalties that aren't as severe as those that apply to an adult who sends illicit images to an underage person. Other states punish sexting under pre-existing laws against child enticement and child pornography.
To learn more about sexting in general, see Teen Sexting.
In Indiana, it is illegal to photograph or disseminate images of someone younger than 18 engaged sexual conduct, and to possess sexual images of someone younger than 16.
However, it is a defense to prosecution if the texted images are only of the sender or recipient, the parties are not more than four years apart in age, the parties are in a dating relationship, and the sexting was consensual (that is, not part of harassment or bullying). However, this defense does not apply if either party sent the image (or images) to anyone else. (In. Ann. Code § 35-42-4-4.)
Adults who sext with minors may be prosecuted under Indiana’s law against child exploitation, possession of child pornography, or disseminating harmful materials to a minor. These crimes are usually punished as felonies, as described below. (In. Ann. Code § 35-42-4-4 & 35-49-3-3.)
For information on child pornography and child enticement, see Child Enticement Laws and click the link to your state in the section entitled “Child Enticement Laws by State.” Also see Child Pornography Charges and Laws.
Photographing or disseminating images of someone younger than 18 engaged sexual conduct is a Class C felony, and penalties include at least two (and up to eight) years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. It is a Class D felony to possess sexual images of a child who is younger than 16 years old. Penalties include at least six months in jail (and up to three years in prison), a fine of up to $10,000, or both. However, minors may be subject to different or reduced penalties when tried in juvenile court, where judges have wider discretion in sentencing.
For more information on the treatment of juveniles who commit crimes, see Incorrigibility: Juvenile Laws.
Similarly, a minor who receives sexts as part of cyber-bullying or other forms of harassment probably won’t be charged with (or convicted of) a crime. For more information on cyber-bullying and computer crimes in general, see Computer and Internet Crime Laws.
An adult who sexts with a minor may be charged under one of the laws describeded above, depending on whether the adult sent, received, or solicited the sexts. Penalties tend to be harsh, and may include a fine of up to $10,000, up to eight years in prison, or both; and may increase for second and subsequent convictions. And stiffer penalties are likely if the adult distributed the images to others as child pornography.
Charges resulting from teen sexting can result in very serious consequences for those involved, and potentially for the teen's parents or guardians (who may be charged under Indiana’s child enticement or endangerment laws for allowing the teen’s involvement in illegal sexual activities). If you’ve been questioned by the police or charged with a sexting crime, you need to speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. Only an attorney can provide you with proper legal advice about your case and protect your rights.