Sexting a Child Equals Sexual Exploitation of a Child Under Colorado law, sexual exploitation of a child occurs when a person knowingly:
Causes or permits a minor to engage in sexual conduct in order to create a sexual image of that minor
Possesses or controls any sexual image of a minor
Prepares any sexual image of a minor for publication or distribution through electronic means, or
Possesses with intent to sell or distribute any sexual image of a minor.
Sexual exploitation of a child can be classified as a Class 3, 4, or 6 felony depending on the particular facts of each case. The state may charge anyone who fits the criteria listed. Specifically, any person that possesses or creates sexual images of a minor, even if that person is also under the age of 18. Internet Sexual Exploitation of a Child Internet sexual exploitation of a child, under Colorado law, occurs when one person entices or convinces another person that they know or believe to be younger than 15 to engage in “cybersex”. “Cybersex” occurs when two people use text messaging, web cameras, or any other communication device to send sexually explicit messages or photos.
For internet sexual exploitation charges to stand, a person must, while interacting with the minor over the Internet, try to convince the child to:
Expose or touch their intimate parts
Expose or touch another person’s intimate parts, or
Observe the actor’s intimate parts.
This is a class 4 felony.
Prior to 2017, these were the only charges that could be laid against teens engaging in sexting behavior. In 2017, the Colorado legislature passed HB 17-1302. This allows several lighter or misdemeanor charges for consensual sexting between similarly-aged teens. These newer laws cover:
Posting sexually explicit photos. Teens under the age of 18 can be charged with posting sexually explicit images if they knowingly distribute, display, or publish images of another juvenile who is at least 14 or less than 4 years younger without permission.
The state may also charge teens with this crime if they distribute, display, or publish images of themselves without reasonable belief that the recipient didn’t request them, causing the recipient emotionally distress.
Possession of sexually explicit photos. A juvenile may be charged with this crime if they knowingly possess an image of another person who is at least 14 or less than 4 years younger than they are without permission.
Exchanging sexually explicit photos. This occurs when two juveniles exchange images of themselves with a reasonable belief that the other party consented to the exchange.
However, though these new laws exist, teens who engage in sexting behavior with other teens significantly younger than themselves. Or, engage in sexting behavior without the consent of the other teen in question could still face harsher penalties. Penalties for Sexting in Colorado Because teen sexting can involve teens both under and above the age of 18, charges can go through either adult courts or juvenile courts. Thus, there is a wide range of penalties that may apply.
Juvenile Penalties for Sexting in Colorado
When charged with penalties related to sexting, penalties for anyone under the age of 18 may not be as severe as adult charges. Judges in juvenile courts have far more discretion when administering consequences, even with more serious offenses.
For example, a juvenile charged with a sexting-related crime could face:
Placement with a county social services department
Detention in a juvenile facility
The severity of these penalties will differ from case to case. Under HB 17-1302, the following penalties exist for some teens who engage in sexting behavior.
Posting is Still Sexting in Colorado
This crime is typically a class 2 misdemeanor. But, this can be upgraded to a class 1 misdemeanor if the teen posting or sharing the image has a criminal record or was believed to have malicious intent.
Possession is classified as a petty offense. However, if the possessor holds 10 or more images depicting 3 or more different people, the state can upgrade the petty offense to a class 2 misdemeanor.
This is the least severe charge. The state usually hands the teen in question a civil infraction. The state may require them to participate in an educational program, such as the Colorado School Safety Resource Center. Also, a fine of $50, which may be waived upon completion of the program.
Adult Penalties for Sexting in Colorado
A teen over the age of 18 charged with a sexting-related crime in Colorado will most likely be charged with sexual exploitation. There are significant potential consequences of being convicted of sexual exploitation, including:
Up to 12 years in prison
Fines of up to $750,000
Mandatory registration with a state sex offender registry Sexting and Federal Law Depending on the circumstances, sexting may also be a federal crime. Typically when someone exchanges sexually explicit images across state lines, even electronically.
However, for individuals under the age of 18, it is very unlikely they will be charged with a federal crime. The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act provides that, where possible, individual states charge juveniles, rather than federal.