I graduated high school in 2007 in a somewhat nebulous void of internet promiscuity. Snapchat did not exist, Twitter was barely a year old, Instagram wasn’t even released and Tinder sounded like science fiction. Hell, The first iPhone launched a month after I graduated on June 29th.
Which is why it was somewhat shocking for me to find out that there is currently a sexting epidemic happening, according to a 10tv report.
In their conversation with Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, it is revealed that 42 Franklin County teenagers have been charged with sexting-related crimes since 2014.
“Some of those crimes carry [a punishment of] registration as sex offenders, others will cause scholarships, college admission, or internally at the high school itself, problems with continuing their education and graduation,” says O’Brien.
He isn’t kidding either. Currently under Ohio Law, sexting crimes could be prosecuted under the state’s child pornography laws and if convicted, could lead to your kid having to register as a sex offender.
This all comes ahead of the startling news that the majority of kids participating in this are either 13 or 16 as 23 of those aforementioned charges where in those age groups.
To combat this legit problem the Franklin County Prosecutor’s office is starting workshops and assemblies for schools in Franklin County to discuss and talk about these sexting parameters.
In Ohio, this issue is simultaneously unclear and rigid. According to a Q&A from 2015 from the Ohio State Bar Association, there is confusion surrounding how Ohio sees these acts,.
Some notable information from their Q&A:
- “Whenever sexting involves a minor, i.e., someone under 18, it is a crime. This is true whether the child accepted a “sext,” sent or forwarded it, received and kept it, posted it, or showed it to someone else on a school bus. The fact sexting might be shared between “consenting” minors does not mean it is okay.”
- “Someone who sexts can be charged with pandering, obscenity involving a minor, child endangerment, possessing nude images of a child, harassment and bullying, and other crimes.”
- With that said, Ohio does not have any laws prohibiting sexting. “The only laws currently on the books are those governing child exploitation. In addition, Ohio lawmakers passed a bill requiring schools to have policies and procedures for handling harassment, intimidation and bullying, including cyber-bullying.”
So what is sexting? There’s no clear definition as it stands and it seems to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Most people generally agree that the sharing, creation or production of any kind of nude image of anyone under 18 is both improper and likely illegal under Ohio law. This includes selfies even when the faces are not visible.
The damages could stretch further as well, because even if you’re on the receiving end of a “sext” you’re on the hook as well. O’Brien said that students showing the images to friends could be charged with distributing pornography.
“Our suggestion is: if you ever receive it, delete it immediately and encourage the person who may have sent it to you that they could be committing a serious offense and problems for your future,” he told 10tv.
One of our staff writers had this to say about her experiences as a high school student in 2012, “This kind of stuff was ingrained into us through what were essentially scare tactics. We would have classes about it or a school wide lecture, and it was really intimidating. I thought I was going to go to jail if I even thought about texting a boy.”
This is all in line with what the Ohio ACLU found and printed in a civil liberties briefing on sexting.
The ACLU’s position on all this is a bit more nuanced, “While the sexting bills proposed do make a positive step in that they at least remove felony charges and sex offender labeling, they continue to treat adolescent behavior as a crime. Laws are designed to protect victims from offenders, but attempts to criminalize sexting blur those lines.”
They conclude their briefing with a potential solution, “The ACLU recommends strengthening Ohio’s privacy laws to combat such intrusions of privacy and for the laws to provide a remedy, not to render sexting criminal.”
By Matthew Erman
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