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Dysart Willis

Sexting: more than a scandalous headline

Former congressman Anthony Weiner was recently sentenced to 21 months in prison for illicit contact with a minor. Weiner, 53, has repeatedly been caught up in sexting scandals; the latest involved sexting with a 15-year-old North Carolina high school student.

While it is clear to many observers that Weiner's behavior was inappropriate, matters can become much murkier when exchanges of sexually explicit text messages involve two teens. What many parents and teenagers don't understand is that sometimes North Carolina teenagers who have been sexting can face child pornography charges.

When Weiner was sentenced, news outlets reported that he cried and called himself a "very sick man" who had finally learned his lesson about sexting. While many would agree that a 53-year-old man who is sexting with a 15-year-old is "very sick," those concerns are typically absent when sexting is between two 15-year-olds.

But significant legal problems can also occur when two teens exchange explicit photos, especially when one of the teens shares the photos with a third party without consent.

Sexting North Carolina teens can even face prosecution under child pornography laws that carry harsh penalties. It is ironic that a teenager can be charged with violation of laws that were written to protect children.

A recent Kinsey study of young adults and teenagers found that 43 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds said that they had used Snapchat to sext someone. So it's clear that sexting is on the rise, which means that our state's lawmakers will one day be forced to deal with the issue.

Those facing child porn accusations know that a conviction can mean incarceration and classification as a sex offender, and have a host of other serious consequences. An experienced criminal defense attorney helps protect freedom and rights.