Thanks to a law one expert calls one of the strictest in the nation, North Carolina teens who take nude photos of themselves can be charged as adult sex offenders. The Fayetteville Observer looks at the law as it applies to one 16-year-old girl, Brianna Denson, who was listed on a warrant as the victim (a minor) and the perpetrator (an adult) after she took a nude selfie and sent it to her boyfriend. She was arrested and charged with two felony sex crimes—one for making the photo and one for possessing it—and she could have gone to prison and been forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. She made a plea deal instead, but even that involves pretty harsh consequences: She's on probation for a year, during which time she can't own a cellphone; she had to pay $200 in court costs and owes 30 hours of community service; and she must take a class on good decision-making. Both experts the Observer talked to say such laws are problematic.
Making North Carolina's law even stranger is the fact that in that state, 16 is the age of sexual consent (or younger if the teens involved are less than four years apart). Local authorities say they investigate several sexting cases per month, typically when the pictures are shared among multiple people. In this case, though, they were likely only shared between the couple, but authorities were alerted to them while investigating other photos shared among a group without the subject's consent. They found Denson's photo on the phone belonging to her boyfriend, the Atlantic reports; he was 16 at the time and was hit with five charges related to Denson's photo as well as two explicit pictures he took of himself. He was charged as an adult and faces prison and the sex offender registry as well, but his case is still pending. As the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf puts it in an article looking at laws like this in North Carolina and other states, "Laws intended to protect kids are being used to prosecute them." (Another teen who had sex with a girl who lied about her age faces lifelong legal trouble.)