What should I do with these photos?

Some people do not understand modern methods of communicating and connecting.

Emojis are the little images young and old alike include with their texts. Microsoft is updating its emojis this year just as people start to understand what the old ones mean.

Acronyms like “idk,”  “ikr,” and “lmao” may be obvious to us, but other people need explanations.

Some recipients have to text their children with questions like “wtf does this one mean?”

Dating rituals have changed as well, especially during the pandemic. Sheltered or not, people want connection, even if it is from afar and through a computer device.

In one magazine story I read but somehow misplaced, a woman described her courtship with a man. They took Covid seriously, wore masks from the beginning, and followed stay at home orders strictly.

The relationship started with emails and proceeded to phone calls. As they got to know each other, they started meeting through a video application, probably Skype.

Over time, the meetings became more frequent, lasted longer, and became more intimate. They felt a strong connection and, after several weeks, decided to take a socially distanced walk in a city park.

The writer explained how strange it was meeting this man in person for the first time after having so much virtual contact, especially someone “who had seen every inch of [her] body.”

That last statement caught my attention. I wasn’t shocked but was thrown off just a bit.

The writer was not in college. In fact, she was writing for a national magazine.

I assumed socially distanced coffee, touching boots under the table, or linking sleeved elbows might precede the nude images for grown ups.

But, I was being naive and forgetting my professional experiences.

I had never heard of Bumble until 2020 when I discovered it in relation to one of my cases.

Bumble has more realistic expectations of dating than some people who dated before digital photography existed. Its experts even offer advice about virtual intimacy. 

That’s fine by me, except for one issue that could create problems in a college town. Many of these dating applications have a minimum age limit of 18, which is close to the age of 17 years, ll months, and 29 days.

A day or so may not make a lot of difference in the physical appearance of a man or woman posing for photos, but it makes a lot of difference under state and federal statues.

The age of consent in North Carolina is 16, which means a sixteen year old boy and a fifty year old woman can legally enjoy each other’s company in whatever way they choose, as long as the sixteen year old is clothed for any photos.

If the boy were to send the woman a nude photo of himself he would be producing and distributing child pornography. If the woman were to keep it, she would be possessing child pornography.

Understandably, violating statutes designed to protect minors from sexual exploitation can result in substantial prison sentences followed by registration as a sex offender.

It doesn’t always play out that way when teenagers take, send, and receive the images, but I prefer my clients not test the wisdom of an ambitious prosecutor.

Dating services like Bumble may have a minimum age. But, who is checking?

So, if it’s a close call, they really shouldn’t have those photos, even if they are allowed to see it all in person.

We should add legal explanations to our practical warnings about the wisdom of flashing and sending digital images before that first walk in the park.

That’s especially true if our warnings are to the folks in our lives who understand the emojis and interpret the acronyms .

We are criminal trial lawyers. We represent people accused of criminal offenses and professional misconduct who risk losing everything. We work to get them their best results and back to leading productive lives.

Call if you need us, or if you just want to say hello.

Amos

P.S.  I got a text yesterday that was just an image of two eyes. No words included. I am waiting to hear what my children say it means.