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Is Sexting Illegal in North Carolina?


“Sexting” is the transmission of sexually explicit text messages, usually containing nude photographs of the participants in the conversation. While adults are free in some states to take sexually explicit photographs of themselves and share them with other willing adults, they must be very careful about the ages of the recipients of sexually explicit text messages or sending explicit content to unwilling recipients. This is especially true in North Carolina where state prosecutors pursue child pornography convictions aggressively. Additionally, minors in sexual relationships with other minors should know the potential legal consequences of sending sexually explicit material to minors.

Some states have enacted specific laws prohibiting sexting between minors, but North Carolina has not. North Carolina considers the transmission of sexually explicit images of minors under the state’s provisions against child pornography, regardless of the sender’s age or the recipient’s age. However, an adult in possession of child pornography generally faces much more severe legal penalties than another minor who receives sexually explicit images from his or her romantic partner of equivalent age.

Potential Criminal Charges for Sexting in North Carolina

Imagine a 17-year-old is dating a 16-year-old, and the older partner convinces the younger one to send sexually explicit photos or pose so the older partner can take sexually explicit photos. In this situation, the 17-year-old could face criminal charges both for possessing child pornography and for the coercion of a minor to engage in sexually inappropriate conduct and the creation of child pornography.

North Carolina also has laws against the creation of obscene photographs and pornographic videos, even consensually. Any photographed or videotaped depiction of nudity or sexual content may qualify as obscene in a North Carolina court. For example, taking a “selfie” while performing oral sex or having sexual intercourse in which the sexual content is readily visible would violate North Carolina’s obscene visual content laws.

An adult who sends sexually explicit images and/or videos to a minor faces criminal charges for disseminating harmful material to minors. This includes any image or video depicting any kind of nudity or sexual content. Generally, the age difference between the two parties is the determining factor in how severe the older party’s penalties will be if sexting leads to any criminal charges, which it easily may in North Carolina if anyone discovers such messages and reports them to the authorities.

Penalties for Sex Offenses in North Carolina

Sending sexually explicit content to minors or creating obscene pornographic material qualify as sexual crimes in North Carolina, and such crimes involving minors always carry harsher penalties. The larger the age difference between the older and younger parties involved, the more severe the criminal penalties will be for a conviction.

Anyone convicted of sexual offenses in North Carolina should expect heavy fines, potential restitution to the younger victim, jail time, and a requirement to register as a sex offender. Sex offender status may be temporary or permanent depending on the severity of the offense. For example, public urination is technically indecent exposure, but a judge would likely consider this a far less serious sexual offense than an adult who coerced a 14-year-old to send sexually explicit photographs.

Sex offender status can interfere with job opportunities and even limit housing availability. A sex offender may not have permission to reside or work within a certain radius of schools, daycare facilities, or playgrounds and face travel and internet usage restrictions. Sex offender status may make it impossible to secure certain types of employment, financing for certain major purchases, or qualify for financial aid for continuing education. Ultimately, there is always a risk of suffering severe criminal penalties when sexting or sending sexually explicit material to anyone, but any such interactions involving minors will almost always lead to criminal charges.