“Sexting” and Internet Crimes in Colorado

Enforcement of internet crimes continues to rise.

With the prevalence and speed of the internet and mobile devices, racy photos and conversation are often shared via email, chat or text. Colorado has tough legislation that targets sexual exploitation of children that occurs over electronic media. Internet sex crimes have gained notoriety following various political scandals.

In a recent case, a 37-year-old Colorado Springs school board member was accused of sending text messages to a 14-year-old boy. The text messages discovered by the boy's sister were sexual in nature and referenced oral sex. The messages started after a summer trip the boy attended with the school board member and her family.

The school board member was arrested in September for internet luring of a child. In October, she was rearrested on the amended charge of sexual assault on a child and currently remains in jail. The school board member has since resigned from her position as school board treasurer.

Several high profile sexting cases have brought this issue to the nation's awareness. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tracks the national scope of the problem. Research indicates that one in five girls and one in 10 boys will be sexually victimized before they reach adulthood. In March 1998, the center established a CyberTipline, which has since received 995,000 reports of possession, manufacture and distribution of child pornography and online enticement of children for sex acts, among other cyber sex crimes.

What is "Sexting?"

"Sexting" is a popular name that combines the words "sex" and "texting" and is used to describe the exchange of nude or semi-nude photographs or sexually-explicit conversation through the use of a mobile device. This can also include images or conversation sent via email or chat. When consenting adults privately send images and exchange in conversation, it is not a crime. However, when children are involved in the exchanges, it could lead to the charge of internet sexual exploitation of a child.

The Differences Between Sexual Exploitation and Internet Luring

The electronic transfer of sexually graphic images with a minor under age 15 will result in a charge of sexual exploitation. Verbal conversations of a sexual nature with that same minor that are intended to result in a meeting constitute internet luring.

Sexual Exploitation of a Child

The crime is sexual exploitation of a child if an adult exposes himself or herself or asks a minor to send sexually suggestive photographs. The older individual must know or believe that the child is under 15 years of age. These sexually enticing messages can be sent via internet, text or instant message. For example, if someone sent a sexually explicit photograph in a text from his or her phone to a child that he or she knew was under age 15, that person could be charged with sending indecent material to a child.

Internet Luring of a Child

If the communication is meant to persuade a child to meet and describes explicit sexual conduct, the crime is internet luring of a child. Again, the older individual must know or believe that the child is under 15 years old and the child must be at least four years younger than the person sending the sexually explicit luring messages. The communication can be sent by internet, text or instant message.

For instance, an instant message over Gmail chat with sexually explicit conduct and asking to meet is a crime if sent to a child younger than 15. The invitation to meet and sexual explicit conversations do not need to take place in the same instant message conversation.

Similar to any other sexual offense, the consequences for these internet sex crimes are serious and life altering. A conviction can carry prison time, lengthy probation and fines. Additional consequences may be ordered, such as restricted contact with minors, mandatory sex offender registration and sex offender treatment.

Increased Enforcement of Internet Crimes

Because of the added notoriety brought by various sexting scandals, law enforcement and prosecutors are under additional pressure to aggressively investigate and charge those accused of these crimes. Law enforcement may "lure" potential offenders by creating profiles for young people and sending suggestive messages. In the digital domain, the true identity of the individual is easily hidden and allows law enforcement to successfully operate internet crime stings. Additionally, digital forensic examiners working for law enforcement can generally recover messages and email from mobile devices and computers.

Sex crimes allegations are not only enough to ruin a reputation, but can also lead to loss of employment, family and friends. If you have been charged with committing an internet sex crime, you need to take the allegation seriously. Even if you believe that the charges are meritless, the consequences of a conviction will follow you for life. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area to discuss how best to defend yourself against the charges.

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