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Is it safe to share personal images with someone I met online, especially if they ask for them early on in the conversation?

Sexting, or sharing sexually explicit images, can have severe legal consequences, especially when the individuals involved are under 18.

Sharing intimate images without consent is a violation of privacy and can result in emotional distress, harassment, blackmail, or unintended dissemination.

Online platforms do not guarantee complete security for shared images, as screenshots and forwarding can still compromise privacy.

Some jurisdictions consider sexting a criminal act, even for consensual exchanges between adults, potentially leading to fines, community service, or imprisonment.

In the US, 21 states have specific sexting laws, mostly addressing cases involving minors.

Penalties can include registration as a sex offender.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 9% of adult cellphone users have sent explicit images, while 20% have received them.

A study by the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that 20% of teenagers who used cellphones had sent or posted sexually explicit images.

A 2019 Thorn report revealed that 44% of US sexual extortion victims were targeted through social media and dating apps.

Sextortion is on the rise, with 71% of sextortion reports made by females, and 28% by males.

Victims are often enticed into intimate conversations before being blackmailed for money.

Google Photos now features a "Locked Folder" that encrypts and hides explicit images, but the recipient must use the same device and app to access them.

Sending explicit images can have professional ramifications, impacting employability and reputation, even if shared consensually.

Sexting can affect mental health, contributing to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts, especially in teens.

In the US, there is a growing trend in "revenge porn" legislation, criminalizing the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.

In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) gives individuals more control over their personal data, including the right to request deletion of explicit images from platforms.

Some online platforms offer features, such as temporary or self-destructing messages, but these do not guarantee privacy, as recipients may still take screenshots or share the images.

In Australia, sexting among teenagers is included in their national sexting laws, which place emphasis on education over punishment.

A 2019 study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that sexting could strengthen romantic relationships when both partners participate willingly and equally.

To minimize risks, consider non-visual sexting options such as audio or written messages, which cannot be shared or forwarded without consent.

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