Is sexting harmless

Sexting: Adolescent carelessness or a case for the criminal court?

Sexting (a word created from sex and texting) is the sending of nude photos via smartphone (e.g. via Snapchat) or the Internet. Sexting has become a very widespread phenomenon among young people. Usually the photos are sent to flirt or within a relationship. This is basically harmless and part of a self-determined sexuality. However, there is a risk that the photos will then be sent to third parties against the will of the person concerned.

Naked photos as an instrument of bullying

Especially after failed relationships, it happens again and again that compromising recordings are sent out by young people as revenge among friends and then quickly spread on the Internet. Apart from the unpleasant and sometimes even dramatic consequences for the person concerned, it is often forgotten that sending intimate photos may constitute a criminal offense of pornographic depiction of minors and the matter can therefore even end before the criminal court.

When sexting becomes a pornographic representation of minors

Although not every nude photo is a pornographic representation, pornographic representations are not only considered to be "private porn". Under certain circumstances, erotic photos or videos, provided that the genitals or the pubic area can be seen and they were produced for the purpose of sexual arousal of the viewer, can also be regarded as pornographic representation. According to Section 207a of the Criminal Code (StGB), the distribution as well as the production and possession of pornographic representations of minors is a criminal offense.

There are, however, some exceptions, especially for recordings of mature minors (i.e. young people aged 14 and over). For example, it is not a criminal offense to produce pornographic depictions of mature minors for your own use with their consent. The mutual exchange of erotic photos or videos between young people from the age of 14 is therefore not considered child pornography. Therefore, for example, a 16-year-old girl can send her boyfriend of the same age erotic photos of herself, and he can also own the photos (save them on the mobile phone). However, it is forbidden to forward such recordings to third parties or to show them to others.

Recordings that are not sensational and reduced to the sexual component (for example, photos in which a child happens to be naked in everyday life) do not fall under the term child pornography.

Nude photos of minors should never be sent to third parties

Producing and distributing your own recordings is also not a criminal offense. Teenagers therefore have nothing to fear under criminal law if they own erotic recordings of themselves or send them to others. As a rule of thumb, you should not own or distribute erotic photos and videos of children under 14 under any circumstances. Adolescents aged 14 and over are allowed to mutually exchange such recordings, but it is forbidden to forward or distribute the other's recordings to third parties.

Regardless of the question of the legal consequences, you should always think carefully about which photos and videos you are sending to which people. Once compromised material is found online, it can easily fall into the wrong hands. And the damage that can result from cyberbullying, for example, can usually not be repaired through legal action. Parents should therefore make their teenagers aware of the potential consequences. Bans are generally of little use and are often even counterproductive. (Carmen Thornton, January 24th, 2020)