North Carolina Sexting Laws

Under North Carolina sexting laws, sexually exploiting yourself is possible, and the law is written so that only legally consenting adults can share sexts without risk of legal consequence. Additionally, the age of consent is sixteen. So what does this mean for sexting teens in the state?

1. Creating sexually explicit media and sharing it under 18 is a felony in North Carolina.

2. you may have to register as a sex offender for violating the state’s child exploitation or pornography laws.

Quick take:

  • North Carolina does not have teen sexting laws. Prosecutors use obscenity, exploitation of a child, and related statutes.
  • In North Carolina, anyone above 16 is an adult.
  • State and federal law do not allow minors below 18 to create sexually explicit media.
  • Possession, distribution, and creation of child pornography, including nude selfies are all felonies.
  • Teens above sixteen convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor must register as sex offenders.

North Carolina sexting laws summary

North Carolina does not have a teen sexting statute. Instead, teens accused of exchanging inappropriate media upon arrest may face Exploitation of a Minor/Child Pornography related charges, solicitation, harassment, disseminating material harmful to minors, and other charges including unlawful dissemination of inappropriate images. Many of these charges are felonies and will have lifelong consequences such as a criminal record and sex offender registration.

Often, prosecutors use obscenity and child pornography laws in place of North Carolina sexting laws.

A sixteen-year-old is an adult in North Carolina

A new law enacted in 2016 states that a 16-year-old is an adult, meaning, if arrested for creating and disseminating sexually explicit images, the teen will face prosecution in adult court. Remember, under federal and state law, anyone below 18 is a child and thus incapable of consenting to creating inappropriate images or being the subject of sexually explicit media. New York is the only other state that has a similar law.

What is crucial to remember here is: state law prohibits teens from:

  • Creating, storing, and disseminating pornography, nude selfies, or any content that is harmful to minors, including deep fakes and photoshop images.
  • Parents and caregivers do not have the legal authority to permit a teen to engage in sexual activity or performance.

Expert Tip: Do not consent to a smartphone search if you have inappropriate pictures of yourself without consulting with a defense attorney first. Additionally, you should not take indecent pictures of yourself if you are under 18.

When does sexting become child pornography in North Carolina?

North Carolina child pornography laws cited as 14-190.16 “sexual exploitation of a minor, “and federal law -defines child pornography as any depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a person or persons under 18. State law prohibits (1). Using, employing, encouraging, coercing, assisting, or facilitating a minor with intent to create sexual depictions. (2) permitting a minor to engage in sexual conduct with intent to create pornography. (3) transporting a minor with intent to engage in sexual conduct. (4) filming, recording, photographing, sharing, transporting, and selling or profiting from child pornography.

Under the statute, not knowing the age of the person depicted is not a defense.

What constitutes child pornography in North Carolina?

Any picture or media that depicts a child engaged in sexual conduct including sexual intercourse, sodomy, lewd exhibition of the breasts/ buttocks/genitals, excretion, or any other conduct of a sexual nature including bestiality constitutes child pornography in North Carolina.

That means a minor sending a nude selfie to another minor constitutes exploitation of a minor in that the minor who took the selfie exploited him or herself. Or in other words, both teens may face prosecution.

What if you did not ask for the photos?

Taking reasonable steps to destroy or delete the photos or reporting the images to the appropriate authorities (the sender’s parents, school, or law enforcement) may save you from prosecution.

Note that North Carolina has three levels of sexual exploitation of a minor:

First-degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor

A person is guilty of exploiting a minor in the first degree if he coerces, encourages, employs, or permits a minor to engage in sexual conduct for filming. Sexual Exploitation in the First Degree is a class C felony punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.

Exploitation of a Minor in the second degree happens when anyone, including minors, creates child pornography. For example, creating and disseminating nude selfies. Exploitation in the second degree is a class E felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Third-degree exploitation of a child

Possessing child pornography or any depiction of a minor engaged in sexual conduct is a class H felony punishable by up to two years in prison.

North Carolina sexting laws and dissemination of material harmful to minors

Under North Carolina law, Material Harmful to Minors refers to any media depicting sexual conduct. For example, an adult sending photo of his genitals to a teenager constitutes disseminating material that is harmful to a minor.

Under state statute 14-190.15, “Disseminating Harmful Material to Minors: exhibiting harmful performances to minors,” age misrepresentation or mistake is not a defense. The statute outlaws furnishing, selling, distributing, and allowing minors to view or peruse harmful material.

What to remember

  • If an adult sends harmful material to a child below 16, the adult is guilty of a Class I felony.
  • Disseminating harmful material to a minor above 16 is a misdemeanor.

If the activity happens interstate or across international borders, federal law may come into play. Under federal law, it is illegal to solicit sexual conduct from a child or expose a child to harmful material. See federal sexting laws here.

Adult court or juvenile court?

As mentioned, under state law, anyone above sixteen will face prosecution in adult court. In addition, upon conviction for Exploitation of a Minor, the accused must register as a sex offender.

North Carolina sexting laws and obscenity

In North Carolina, it is unlawful to disseminate obscenity. Obscenity, under 14-190.1. refers to any material that describes or depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, lacks serious literary, artistic, political value, is not protected by the US constitution, and only appeals to the prurient interest in sex.

Consequently, a video, photo, or other media is obscene if it depicts acts including intercourse, masturbation, excretion, lewd exhibition of genitals, flagellation, sodomy, and all related acts. Accordingly, the statute prohibits the dissemination, selling, delivering, publishing, exhibiting, renting, or in any way making obscene material available.

Disseminating obscene material in North Carolina is a class I felony.

North Carolina sexting laws and soliciting a minor by computer

Under state and federal law, attempting to solicit and soliciting sex from a minor via an electronic device is a class H felony. Remember, under state law, anyone above sixteen is an adult, so prosecutors may also pursue solicitation depending on the facts presented.

What constitutes solicitation in North Carolina?

Under chapter 14-202.3. anyone above sixteen is guilty of soliciting a minor if the person commands, advises, coerces, entices, or by any other means causes a minor to engage in sexual conduct. In the statute, “child” refers to anyone below 16 or at least five years younger than the accused. Furthermore, soliciting a minor is a crime even if the adult does not meet the minor. If the activity happens interstate, the accused may face federal prosecution. Under federal law, the punishment for soliciting sex from a minor is anywhere from 10 years to life.

Under state law, soliciting sex or sexual conduct from a minor is a class H felony that escalates into a Class G felony if the accused appears at the location.

What to remember:

  • The law allows law enforcement officers to pose as minors during investigations.
  • Consent is not a defense.

North Carolina sexting laws and enticing a minor

Note that Enticing a Minor and Soliciting a Minor for Sex are separate offences on the federal and state levels. Enticing a Minor entails inviting, persuading, or attempting to lure a child to a vehicle, secluded place, or building with the intent to engage in sexual conduct.

Federal Enticement charges apply if the activity happens across state lines or international borders.

North Carolina sexting laws and taking indecent liberties with children

To take indecent liberties with a child means to attempt to or take improper, indecent, or immoral liberties with a child with intent to gratify sexual desire or arouse sexual desire. It also means to commit lewd/lascivious acts on a minor.

14-202.1 is a “catch-all law” that a prosecutor may rightfully use to prosecute any inappropriate activity involving a child that falls outside the charges above. Some examples include attempting to have sex with a minor and lewd exhibition of private parts to minors.

Under state statute 14-202.1. taking indecent liberties with a child is a class F felony.

North Carolina sexting laws and revenge porn

A person violates north Carolina’s revenge porn statute (GS-14-190) when the individual intends to demean, humiliate, coerce, or cause emotional, psychological, or financial damages to another. The person shares/ disseminates any sexually explicit media depicting another identifiable individual without consent. That means sharing photos obtained under circumstances where the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy is a class H felony.

“Identifiable” means the person in the photo is identifiable via the accompanying information, marks, tattoos, or other identifying information.

The law works under the assumption that the accused intended to harm the victim in any way, the photos are obscene or sexual, the person depicted did not consent, and the accused knowingly and intentionally shared the photos.

What about nonconsensual nudes?

Nonconsensual sexting or sending inappropriate sexual images may constitute obscenity or harassment. The facts presented will determine what charges to pursue. However, victims of harassment by phone, cyberbullying, and other related civil offenses may take civil action to recover damages.


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