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Can a selfie lead to child pornography charges in Iowa?

Selfies, which are self-portraits taken with a smart phone or other handheld devices, have become extremely popular in the past few years. Teenagers in particular often send selfies to their friends through Snapchat or similar programs or post them on social media sites. But when a minor sends or posts a sexually explicit selfie, they run the risk of being prosecuted under federal or state child pornography laws. Anyone receiving or possessing such a picture is also at risk.

Child pornography can be prosecuted under Iowa law, federal law or both. Federal jurisdiction is broad and can encompass almost any alleged sex offenses involving use of the Internet.

Under federal law, child pornography is defined as material that visually depicts a sexual act involving a minor. Iowa law defines it as material depicting a minor taking part in a prohibited sexual act or the simulation of a prohibited sexual act. For purposes of this law, a prohibited sexual act is defined broadly to include various forms of sexual contact or nudity depicted for purposes of sexual arousal. A minor is anyone under the age of 18 years.

The irony is that although child pornography laws were enacted to protect minors from exploitation, they are increasingly being used to prosecute minors for sending lewd or suggestive self-portraits to their friends. If the image is forwarded to others, anyone who sends it or looks at it could potentially face criminal charges.

The long-term consequences of a sex crime conviction are harsh and often include the obligation to register as a sex offender for life. Anyone facing these charges would be well advised to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. This could help defendants fully understand the charges against him or her and what defense action could be taken to protect their rights and options.

Source: Findlaw, "Child Pornography and Selfies: What You Need to Know," accessed Sept. 12, 2015

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