When it comes to laws on sexting between minors, the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA) in Title 18 United States Code Section 5032 provides that, where possible, juveniles should be prosecuted in state, not federal, courts. However, there are federal provisions for adults that are relevant to our discussion, and that young people should be aware of so they know how they are protected and when they should reach out to law enforcement.
Title 18 United States Code Section 1466A(a), (b), and (c); and Title 18 United States Code Section 2252A(b)(2) explain that anyone who “knowingly produces, distributes, receives, or possesses with intent to distribute, a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting that depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct, and is obscene,” or who “knowingly possesses” a visual depiction described above is subject to the penalties provided by law. Please note that the minor depicted does not need to actually exist.
Title 18 United States Code Section 1470 prohibits any individual from knowingly transferring or attempting to transfer obscene matter using the U.S. mail or any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce to a minor under 16 years old. Convicted offenders face fines and imprisonment up to 10 years.
Child sex trafficking is prohibited by Title 18 United States Code Section 1591. It is a federal offense to knowingly recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain a minor (defined as someone under 18 years of age) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the victim is a minor and would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act.
Federal law also prohibits the production, distribution, reception, and possession of an image of child pornography using or affecting any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce (Title 18 United States Code Section 2251; Title 18 United States Code Section 2252; and Title 18 United States Code Section 2252A). Specifically, Section 2251 makes it illegal to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for purposes of producing visual depictions of that conduct. Any individual who attempts or conspires to commit a child pornography offense is also subject to prosecution under federal law.