Ohio Wants to Make Sexting Illegal for Anyone Under 19

Oftentimes, when lawmakers don’t know how to make sense of something, or it scares them, they criminalize it.

Exhibit A: sexting.

Sexting is very common among teens, frequently referenced in pop-culture, and perhaps a mystery to people who didn’t grow up with a cellphone. Some may call it “unwise.” Friends may steer friends away from doing it. But one thing is for sure, sexting should not be criminal.

After all, if teenagers decide to engage in some racy sexting, is it really the government’s place to punish them? If a photo or text conversation goes viral, sometimes the young person whose privacy was violated is punished in the court of law, which is just plain wrong. And all parties in these situations are young people who may not have the judgment to make the best decisions — so should they have the rest of their life ruined because of a bad decision?

The answer should be no.

Enter Ohio lawmakers, a group of (mostly) angry older white guys who are shaking their fists and bemoaning kids today while doing little, if anything, to understand the millennial generation. On May 22, members of the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee passed a “teen sexting ban.” This misguided and over-the-top legislation proposes to “ban sexting” for anyone under the age of 19.  The full House is expected to vote on this bill soon.

This legislation results in numerous, negative ramifications for young people. It even goes so far as to create a brand new crime, “possession of sexually explicit material” that any kid caught sexting could be charged with. With the creation of this new crime, judges have the option to send young people to eight hours of “criminal service,” where both the legal and non-legal consequences of “sexting” will be explained to them.

The stigma behind any criminal conviction is severe, but to tar these kids as sex offenders could quite literally ruin their lives. This charge could make it impossible for young people to access opportunities for education, housing, and employment for years to come.  

Lawmakers have said they are creating this new crime to give judges and prosecutors an option not to charge young people with more serious crimes, such as a felony offense. But there’s a problem with that: Judges and prosecutors aren’t required to do what these legislators might want. Instead, they can simply continue to charge kids with felonies for sexting and maybe throw in this new charge as well for good measure.

Here’s one idea: If we don’t want kids to be given harsh penalties for sexting, how about we pass legislation that explicitly says that they cannot be given those serious criminal charges?

One other idea — since we’re giving out free advice — don’t you think a young person would better benefit from this information if it were presented to them in just about any other way? Most teenagers are adverse to lectures from authority figures to begin with, especially if it’s about a topic as uncomfortable as their bodies and their sexual expression, which has been criminalized to boot. We absolutely should be talking with young people about sexting and sexual health altogether, but punishing them and lecturing at them is not an effective way to do it.

Teens can get hurt in relationships, and they can end badly. Young people should guard their privacy and be aware of the risks of sexting. If one party violates another person’s trust by spreading pictures or screenshots of text messages, they should utilize the civil courts to stop the person’s misbehavior. But feeding young people into the criminal justice system where they could be branded for life will accomplish nothing but ruining young people’s lives for conduct that should never be criminal to begin with.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

That's Ohio for you. The place is full of fumducks.

Anonymous

This is stupid... If teens are between 14 and 18 sexting should be ok... Only if they are spread publicly should the government get involved

Anonymous

That is when the government usually gets involved.

Anonymous

My only major issue with this is at 18 you are a legal adult. It should be under the age of 18. Who are they to vote on what an 18 year old can or can't sent to another adult.

Anonymous

Even an angry older white guy (as I am) can still hold liberal progressive views. When African-Americans hold views that you do not agree with you do not mention their race. The lawmakers race is not relevant to this article and is not what I would expect of a progressive organization.

Anonymous

You are assuming that all sexting is harmless child play and that a teen can't be a dangerous sex offender. Teens can and have committed raped and other horrible sex crimes. They have also created and circulated child porn for adults. That is why judges need options. For most kids having to waste a whole day on the uncomfortable topics of sexting and consequences should be sufficient. Others are a lot more dangerous.

Anonymous. N.

I agree with you Anonymous! I've work with sexually aggressive youth. Also meth babies can have problems when they are growing up.

Anonymous

That’s a straw man. Circulating child pornography and rape are already crimes and if a teen commits them they can be punished. No one is arguing otherwise. Under the law a teen who teemed sexual texts to their bf or gf can become a registered sex pffender. That’s just outrageous.

Anonymous

Where does it say the law includes making them registered sex offenders?

William Hamilton

Let’s get real. People today are treating their children as though they were “Lap Dogs.”
They refuse to allow them to grow up even though they are sexually mature and horney.
Your great grandparents were marrying and having children when the girls were as young as eleven and twelve years old. By the time a boy was sixteen he was expected to start making plans to start a family.

But now, today, parents want their girls to wait until they are in their twenties to become sexually active. Is it any wonder that there is so much mental distress and marital problems? All through history, Children were expected to start a family shortly after reaching puberty. For Girls that is often as young as eleven and for boys, it is twelve or thirteen years old-not twenty-two or twenty-three.

Today’s retarding of sexual urges (by your children) is contrary to nature causing mental and emotional maturity distress. Is it any wonder that there are so many sexual crimes on college campuses? Your children are not your “PETS.” They need to be allowed to mature according to their mental wiring.

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