Sexting, Teenagers, and Liability for Distributing Sexting Content 

What is Sexting?

With advances in mobile technology, images and text can be shared instantly. Among teenagers, the ease of privately sending images and text messages has caused the emergence of the “sexting” phenomena. This trend has become so common among teenagers that, in 2012, the word “sexting” was included in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Sexting is defined as “the digital transmission of sexually suggestive or sexually explicit photographs or videos, intended for personal use, through a medium that affords a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a text message or personal email.” When a person becomes the victim of sexting through the misappropriation or distribution of content that is meant to be kept private, we are available to assist in cases where civil liability may exist.  Each sexting case will be highly dependent upon the facts and circumstances involved as to whether a legal case exists.

How Widespread is “Sexting?” 

Although studies differ, research indicates that approximately 20-30% of teens have sent of received a sext. Sexting is thus not isolated to a fringe of the teenage population.  Sexting is also not limited to teenagers; it is also done by adults.

The Consequences of “Sexting”

“Sexting” can cause disastrous consequences if the explicit images are shared beyond the intended recipient, such as to others at a school or to others through  anonline social network. Shockingly, The Internet Watch Foundation found that 88% of self-made explicit images are “stolen” from their original upload location, and made available on other websites. Besides the obvious initial embarrassment, sexting victims can suffer severe depression, anxiety, and other mental illness or distress as a result of such “sharing.” Tragically, the misappropriation and publication of “sexted” images has even resulted in victims committing suicide.

Sexting Can Also Be a Crime 

Depending upon factors such as the age of the person in the images and nature of the conduct that is being portrayed, sexting can also implicate child pornography laws.

Are Schools Legally Liable for Failing to Stop Sexting?

Parents of children victimized by the distribution of sexted images have recently been able to seek legal remedies under Federal law. Under Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination, victims of sexted images may be able to hold schools liable for failing to prevent or stop further dissemination of “sexted” images. Recently, an Ohio Court found in favor of the victim of sexted images, ruling that the school district may be held liable when sexted images cause the victim to commit suicide. Here, peers distributed nude images of a teenage girl at school. School officials failed to intervene and the victim took her own life. The girl’s parents sued the school district under Title IX alleging the school violated the law’s prohibition against harassment by acting with deliberate indifference to the girl’s complaints about the “sexting.” Five principals and the school’s dean of students allegedly knew of the harassment, but did little to stop the spread of the images. Courts in other jurisdictions may similarly find that Title IX applies to sexting, thereby providing victimized students with a potentially new avenue for legal remedies.

Holding the Perpetrator Liable

Victims of sexting may also initiate legal action against the perpetrator who spread the images without consent, as well as or other parties who may have stolen images for distribution online. Claims may be brought against the perpetrator relying on common law causes of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Under either theory, the sexting victim would, at a minimum, be required to provethat the images were distributed without consent, and that such distribution resulted in significant mental anguish or other damages.  

How Our Firm Can Help Those Who Have Been Subject to Sexting 

If you or your son or daughter has been the victim of the distribution of sexted images without consent, we may be able to help.  Please call us for a free, no-obligation consultation so we can learn about your case.  Once we understand the facts and circumstances, we can explain what actions can be taken to prevent future harm from sexting, and the damages and compensation to which you may be entitled. Our representation of clients in injury and wrongful death cases is generally on a contingency fee basis, by which we are only entitled to fees for our time and services if we are able to recover compensation for our clients.

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