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Ohio House passes bill prohibiting sexting under 19

The Ohio House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 355 on Wednesday, which would set up educational diversion programs for people who have violated Ohio’s laws on sexting.

According to the bill, sexting is defined as the distribution of sexually explicit digital material by a minor over 13 years old. If it becomes law, sexting would be a first-degree misdemeanor for people under 19 years old to create, distribute or possess sexually explicit digital material and for first-time offenders, educational diversion programs and community service hours would be an alternative to conviction.

Diversion programs would be set up for each municipal court, county court, juvenile court and court of common pleas to educate first-time violators about the legal and non-legal consequences of sexting, the long-term consequences of sharing photos online and the connections between sharing sexually explicit content and cyber-bullying. 

If the program is completed by the person, the court will dismiss the charges against them; however, if they do not comply they could be brought to trial or before the juvenile court, depending on which one is applicable. If the offender is convicted of, pleads guilty to or has been declared a “delinquent child for committing possession of sexually explicit material,” the courts can sentence them to eight hours of community service.

Exemptions to this law would include the exchange of sexually explicit material between spouses.

Studies show that at least one-fourth of teens are directly involved with sexting, while as many as half have seen some form of “sext,” according to the Ohio State Bar Association. 

Sexting is currently prosecuted under Ohio’s child pornography laws, which can result in third-degree felony charges and minors being registered as sex offenders, according to Ohio Revised Code 2907.322

The bill is moving to the Senate.


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