Teens in Riverside, OH were recently charged with felony sex offenses for transmitting images of other nude teens via cell phone, or “sexting”. Though the charges were able to be avoided by completing a juvenile diversion program, should Ohio prosecution have the ability to threaten teens with ruinous felony sex offenses and sex offender status for these actions?That’s a question one Ohio legislator is asking, according to this excellent report in the Dayton Daily News. Local prosecutors insist that they use discretion in these cases, and that the laws are sufficient as written. But the threat of life-changing felonies for what most of us believe is ill-advised, but not dangerous criminal behavior qualifying as felony sex offenses.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20% of teens admit to having sent nude or semi-nude images of themselves. Does that mean 20% of our teens deserve to be threatened with felony child pornography charges?
It is fine that prosecutors want to use discretion, but the ability to “overcharge” a crime is a level of discretion that can easily be abused. That’s like saying prosecutors should be able to charge someone with felony assault if they get in a loud argument.
Reform of sexting laws is a hot topic right now, but it’s a shame that the Ohio prosecutors and legislators don’t seem more wary of the power they have over children who make dumb mistakes.