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Sexting Laws in Washington State

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Sending sexually explicit text messages, also known as sexting, is a common activity among many Washington adults. However, there are certain instances where sexting is no longer legal — and may lead to serious criminal charges. Here is what every Washington adult needs to know about the state’s sexting laws.

New Laws for Sexting Between Teens

In April 2019, Governor Jay Inslee signed a measure to decriminalize the exchange of sexually explicit texts between teenagers. Prior to this bill, teens caught sexting would face charges under adult sex crime laws, since sexually explicit images of minors are child pornography. The consequences were equally severe, often requiring registration in the Washington sex offender database.

Under the new law, the following guidelines apply to youth-only sexting crimes.

  • Possessing, distributing, publishing, or exchanging a depiction of a minor between the age of 13 and 17 engaged in sexually explicit conduct is a gross misdemeanor.
  • Possessing, distributing, publishing, or exchanging a depiction of a minor under the age of 13 is a class B felony.
  • Financing or selling sexually explicit content involving a minor is a class B felony.
  • A minor selling a depiction of himself or herself engaged in sexually explicit conduct is a misdemeanor offense.
  • No criminal penalty exists for minors who exchange, develop, publish, or possess content of themselves engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Sexting Between Adults

It is legal for consenting adults in the state of Washington to privately exchange sexually explicit texts and other materials, including pictures and videos. An issue arises when the sexting and exchange of explicit material is not consensual.

Sexual violence occurs when one person commits a sexual act against another without his or her free and informed consent. If someone sends sexually explicit messages, photos, or videos without the consent of the other person and continues to send these materials after the other person tells him or her to stop, he or she could commit an act of sexual violence. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the case, he or she may face charges for sexual harassment or other sex crimes.

Revenge Porn Laws in Washington

Revenge porn is the act of disclosing intimate images without the consent of the person who appears in the images. People who share old images of former intimate partners commit this crime.

Washington takes this crime very seriously — in fact, disclosing intimate images can be a gross misdemeanor for a first offense, or a Class C felony for a second or subsequent offense. The law applies to any person who discloses an intimate image who meets the following criteria.

  • The at-fault person obtained the image with reasonable understanding that it was to remain private.
  • The at-fault person knew or should have known that he or she did not have the consent to disclose the image.
  • The at-fault person knew or should have known that disclosing the image would cause harm to the person in the image.

Consequences for revenge porn vary based on the number of previous offenses. Gross misdemeanor charges can lead to up to 364 days in jail and a fine up to $5,000. Class C felonies can result in up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

If you are facing criminal charges for a sexting-related crime, contact a Tacoma sex crimes lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will help you understand the charges and potential consequences, prepare for your court dates, and create a strong defense for the best possible outcome. Call our law office today at (253) 272-8666 to discuss your legal options or contact us online.

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