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.

View comments (37)
Read the Terms of Use


Well children today eat Tide pods so............


Is this the argument you make when you "groom" teenage girls?


Very interesting and informative !


Absolutely right on!


People under the age of 19 aren’t millennials. This is a very common misunderstanding! Please don’t further it with your writing.


I am confused. Why would any of you want your kids private anatomy all over the internet for any one to see?? Additionally I don't see how this "Sexting", is any less a boundary violation then many non-touch sexual offences. Before I worked with post incarcerated federal sex offenders, I would have agreed more here, but some very young kids can be very very dangerous, and they are in those schools and teams with your own kids. There is no sense to Sexting. And the judicial system cannot bracket some entitled kids as "Just having fun", when the others. A few inches more bold, or brown are being sentenced for a sex crime. It's not that I support this Sexually Sterilized culture, but. because USA has that, then Sexting is a ridiculously high risk behavior.


You sure don't seem very confused to me.


" 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."
Uh no. That is 100 percent wrong.
If someone violates someone privacy by spreading pictures or screenshots it is most definitely a crime and the person who sends the pictures should be criminally charged.
While I understand that the ACLU believes that young people should never be punished in the criminal courts (ie charged as a minor) most people agree that young people need to be punished when they break the law.


I believe cognitive restructuring to be helpful treatment for youth who have sexually offended. Treatment as a youth, or as a child preferable to just punishment. I believe we as a society should expect offender rehabilitation. To offer offenders s way to become a productive member of society. We in USA don't expect rehabilitation, and we should expect that, not just
punishment. We should as a nation expect our judicial system to help our offender populations/ criminals /incarcerated masses/to become more functional and therefore they become better, more productive members of our community. society. Some of the Nordic judicial system and prison systems, have been successful, because their society expects rehabilitation, and offers hope for positive reformation if incarcerated communities, and an incentive to change can include release . The punishment itself is being incarcerated, and separated from everyone and everything you love, and much of what gave your life meaning.

Anonymous kk

I know of an incident where a 16 yr old male sexual molested children younger than age of 10. All he had gotten was special night classes and denies doing this. Money, small town lawyers, good olé boy system. Just a slap on the hand. Crap. KY. and Ohio wake up and quit giving preferences to certain individuals. Children just don't quote from a social worker to my grandchildren "they are young and will grow out of it." You seriously freaking kidding me. This is from middle class society. Full of crap. A lot of children are spoiled or in their parents eyes never do any wrong. A lot of crime is and has gone unpunished. Ridiculous. Sexting one on is one is personal and private however people abuse for power, control, narcissism, etc... Children today are not like the children of the seventies. A lot more is available in the public than ever before to children. A lot of pedophiles out here today. Sexting is not safe, and a person can turn on you and abuse another's vulnerability. Education in classrooms on respect, empathy, sex education, and quit teaching men devaluing women no matter what age. Sexting at those ages today due to children growing up it seems earlier there should be mandatory. Education and information is the key.


Stay Informed