Texas Sexting Laws

Protect yourself by understanding the state's sexting laws

Texas
In 2011, Governor Rick Perry signed in a law that limits the penalties imposed on a minor for sexting. Getty Images/Richard Cummins

Is sexting a crime, or just 'sexually curious behavior'?

The rise in popularity of texting and messaging applications has also resulted in the rise of "sexting," which is the transmission of sexually explicit information via mobile devices. Teens, in particular, have adopted the practice, making it a rather commonplace activity in their lives. Despite multiple studies which have aimed to identify what percentage of teens participate in sexting, the number has remained elusive due to the way the studies have been conducted and how "sexting" has been defined in each attempt.

Still there are indications that sexting is commonplace, as the number of high-profile sexting cases come to light with seemingly more frequency.  

Sexting cases involving teens are typically dealt with under decades-old child pornography laws, which has resulted in many young people being sentenced to harsh penalties and the label of "sex offender" to haunt them for the rest of their lives. Understanding that sexting has emerged due to technological advances, and that the practice is nothing more than "part of sexually curious behavior, in a world of technology-mediated adolescent development," many states have recently adopted laws specifically to address sexting by minors. 

Sexting in Texas

Texas is one of the roughly twenty states that have adopted sexting-specific laws. In 2011, Governor Rick Perry signed in a new law which reduced the penalty for sexting by minors. According to Houston-based attorney Attorney Brett Podolski, the new laws made the transmission of messages "containing images of minors a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

This means that minors found guilty of sexting no longer have to register as sex offenders as they did in the past." A minor, in this context, is an individual under the age of 18.

A misdemeanor in Texas is punishable by a fine for the first offense, with additional fines and county jail time in store for those with multiple convictions.

The intention one has when distributing sexually-explicit content comes into play as well. For instance, if a minor is faced with a first offense for sexting, and had distributed the material with the "intent to annoy, harass, abuse, embarrass or harm another," then the charge may be raised to a Class B misdemeanor, for which harsher penalties apply."

There are some defenses for minors, however. If the material was sent privately between two individuals, in the context of a dating relationship, and if the age of the individuals involved are within two years of each other, even if one of the individuals is under 18, its possible that the activity may be deemed legal.

Sexting is legal between adults. If an adult is found in possession of sexually-explicit material of a minor, however, then federal child pornography charges could apply. The punishment for such offenses are very serious and can result in significant fines, time in federal prison, and a felony record. 

Updated by Christina Michelle Bailey 5/30/16.

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