Ohio is About to Ban Sexting for Anyone Under 19

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Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, the Ohio House voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 355, a bill prohibiting anyone younger than 19 from sexting and establish a second-chance program for first time offenses.

First time offenses would be considered a misdemeanor punishable by eight hours of community service, though judges would have discretion to dish out alternative sentences.

The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union does not support the bill, because they feel it's another option for charges and doesn't eliminate the possibility of teens to be charged with sex crimes for sexting.

According to the ACLU, 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.

Sponsored by Ohio Rep. Jeff Rezabek, (R-Clayton), the bill would require courts set up a sexting diversion school for some offenders, similar to those already existing in Montgomery and Clark counties.

The class would cover the consequences of sexting and how everything sent electronically never really dies, meaning that oh-so alluring topless shot you sent your partner when you were 18 could easily pop up to haunt you well into your thirties.

It seems odd that classes will be in place to express the dangers and long-term effects of sexting available only after someone has "committed the crime" of sexting, rather than be available as an educational resource to encourage prevention.

As long as you're 18 or older, it's perfectly legal to perform in pornography or consent to sexual activities, so it's a little peculiar to have a law banning consensual nude photo sharing between legally of-age adults.

HB 355 seems frivolous, given that it's already illegal in Ohio to send, receive or view explicit photos of a minor. Doing so can lead to criminal charges, including possession or distribution of child pornography.

The language of the bill also seems problematic, as it states "No person under 19 years of age shall purposely create, produce, distribute, present, transmit, post, exchange, disseminate, or possess through a telecommunications device any sexually explicit digital material when the person is not more than four years older than the minor depicted." It's still unclear what the law means for apps like SnapChat. Is it still a crime if someone sends a dick pic that lasts for 10 seconds and the recipient doesn't screenshot?

The bill previously banned sexting up to age 21, but the amended version that made its way out of committee and onto the voting floor changed the age to 19 and so would include all 18-year-olds.

Additionally, yesterday the Ohio House voted to pass House Bill 497, which criminalizes acts of revenge porn.

One of the major focuses of HB 355 seems to be about educating people of the dangers of sexting and how frequently those photos can be shared, but if Ohio is already voting to criminalize those that share explicit personal photos without consent, it begs the question why HB 355 is even necessary?

Regardless, both HB 355 and HB 497 will head to the Senate to await their fate of becoming laws.

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