What is “sexting?”

Sexting – sharing nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit photographs or video clips through text messages – is more common than you may think. 

Modern romances often begin online – using online dating apps, websites, and social media, and progressing to text messages, phone calls, and video calls, and many people don’t think twice before sharing nude photos of themselves with a trusted romantic partner. 

In this article, we will discuss sexting and when it is considered a criminal offense, including:

  • When sexting is a crime under South Carolina law, 
  • Which South Carolina sexting crimes are actually enforced, and 
  • South Carolina sex crimes that may involve sexting and minors. 

When is Sexting a Crime? 

If South Carolina’s laws were enforced as written, any type of sexting could get you arrested, regardless of the participants’ ages. 

South Carolina’s “offenses against morality and decency,” found in South Carolina Code Title 16, Chapter 15, includes several crimes that we just don’t enforce anymore, like adultery, fornication, “seduction under promise of marriage,” and homosexuality. 

Many “offenses against morality” relate to sexting. Some of those are prosecuted as crimes, and some are not. Some could not be prosecuted because they are unconstitutional, while others just aren’t prosecuted because they aren’t considered as offensive as they were more than a hundred years ago when the laws were written. 

As a general rule, sexting between adults may be criminal but is not likely to be prosecuted by the authorities, while sexting between minors or between an adult and a minor is almost always a crime that will be prosecuted. 

Sexting Between Adults

Some examples of how sexting between adults could be considered criminal (but not necessarily prosecutable) include: 

  • Dissemination of Obscene MaterialSouth Carolina Code § 16-15-305 makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison for any person to “disseminate obscenity,” which, under the plain language of the statute, would include sending nude photos by text message. 
  • Preparation of Obscene MaterialSouth Carolina Code § 16-15-325 makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison for any person to “photograph himself or any other individual… for purposes of preparing… digital electronic files for the purpose of dissemination…”
  • Communicating Obscene Messages without Consent South Carolina Code § 16-15-250 makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years to text “any obscene, profane, indecent, vulgar, suggestive, or immoral message” to another person without their consent, which would cover nude or suggestive photographs. 

Sexting with a Minor or Between Minors

“Sexting” is more likely to be prosecuted, and less likely to be considered harmless, when a minor is involved. Sexting is more likely to become a prosecutable crime when:

  • Two minors send nude photos to one another, 
  • Minors are sharing nude or sexually explicit photos or videos of another student or students at school, 
  • A minor is “sexting with an adult,” or
  • Adults are sharing photos of a minor. 

Below is a list of the possible crimes a person could be charged with when one or more minors are involved in sexting. 

Permitting Minor to Engage in Obscene Act

South Carolina Code § 16-15-335 says that any person 18 years of age or older who “permits a person under the age of eighteen years to do or assist in doing an act or thing constituting an offense pursuant to this article and involving any material, act, or thing he knows or reasonably should know to be obscene” is guilty of a felony punishable by up to ten years. 

Criminal Solicitation of a Minor

South Carolina Code § 16-15-342 makes it a felony punishable by up to ten years for a person 18 years of age or older to contact or communicate with a person younger than 18 “for the purpose of or with the intent of persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing the person to engage or participate in a sexual activity…”

Disseminating Obscene Material to a Minor (Under 18/ Under 12)

South Carolina Code § 16-15-345 makes it a felony punishable by up to ten years to disseminate “obscene” material to a minor – which includes texting nude or suggestive photographs or videos. If the minor is 12 years old or younger, it is punishable by up to 15 years. 

Exposure of Private Parts/ Indecent Exposure

In addition to South Carolina’s indecent exposure law, which makes it a crime to expose yourself in a public place, South Carolina Code §16-15-365 makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months to “expose[] the private parts of [your] person in a lewd and lascivious manner and in the presence of any other person.” 

Sexual Exploitation of a Minor/Child Pornography

Recording, possessing, or participating in child pornography in any way can result in charges for sexual exploitation of a minor in South Carolina, which includes three levels:

  • First-degree sexual exploitation of a minor: a felony that carries no less than three years and up to 20 years in prison and includes permitting a minor in your custody to appear nude or engage in sexual activity or transporting a minor through or across the state for purposes of exploitation, and
  • Second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor: a felony that carries no less than two years and up to ten years in prison and includes recording or photographing a nude minor or distributing photographs or video of nude minors, and
  • Third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor: it is a felony that carries up to ten years in prison to possess child pornography. 

This is particularly dangerous for teens who are sexting. Even when it is consensual, teens could be charged with sexual exploitation of a minor based on creating, distributing, or possessing nude photos of other teens. 

Sexual Extortion/ Aggravated Sexual Extortion 

Anyone can be charged with sexual extortion under South Carolina Code § 16-15-430(B) if they “intentionally and maliciously threaten[] to release, exhibit, or distribute a private image of another in order to compel or attempt to compel the victim to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his will, with the intent to obtain additional private images or anything else of value.”

Sexual extortion carries:

  • Up to five years for a first offense, 
  • Up to ten years for a second offense, 
  • Up to twenty years for a third offense, or
  • Up to twenty years for aggravated sexual extortion (the victim was a minor, a vulnerable adult, or suffered death or great bodily injury as a result of the extortion). 

Charged with a Sexting Crime in South Carolina? 

Get an experienced sex crimes attorney on your side immediately who can investigate your case, find the evidence to prove your innocence when possible, negotiate with the state, and try your case to a jury when necessary. 

Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you. 

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