Debate Forum Topic 01/05/11

Finding the Right Balance of Punishment for Teen ‘Sexting’

Technology has once again brought new challenges for parents who are trying to protect their children from the bad decisions made by hormone-driven adolescents.  For “Baby Boomers” who grew up at a time when the telephone was a land line with maybe an extension line or two around the house and certainly not usable as a portable camera with Wi-Fi capability, the most trouble that using a phone could bring was in making prank calls to local stores.

Juvenile prankster: “Do you have Sir Walter Riley in a can?

Unsuspecting storeowner:  “Why, yes we do!”

Juvenile Prankster: “Then you better let him out!”

Results: An annoyed storeowner but even when caught, there was no permanent criminal record for the juvenile.

Even young people, who found creative uses for an instant Polaroid camera, limited the potential embarrassment to the circle of friends who might see the compromising picture.

Today, hormone-driven, poor decisions made with a smart phone can actually ruin a young person’s future.  The World Wide Web now expands the circle of close friends who see what should be a private photograph to the entire world. The results can be devastating. Eighteen-year-old Jessica Logan committed suicide last year after she was harassed when a nude photo she sent to her ex-boyfriend was shown to other students.  The death of this young girl from the northern Cincinnati area, prompted State Representative Connie Pillich to introduce legislation in the Ohio Legislature to address the issue.

Last year, an Associated Press MTV poll found that more than a quarter of young people have been involved in some sort of “sexting.” In the survey of 1,247 teenagers and adults ages 14-24, 10 percent said they had sent naked pictures of themselves on their cell phone or online. Seventeen percent of those who received naked pictures said they passed them along to someone else, often to more than one person.

Under current Ohio law, “sexting” – the sending of sexually explicit photos or videos of oneself to others by cell phone or computer – can be charged as a felony, even between consenting teens, requiring the registration of the teen as a sex offender. State legislatures all over the country are trying to find an answer for these electronic transfers of intimate pictures by teens. While not wanting to minimize the behavior as simply youthful indiscretions, at the same time they want to avoid placing on the offending teens the burden of a felony record and a label as a sex offender for a momentary loss of judgment.

Under the new bill, exchange and possession of images of nudity between minors by a telecommunications device would be a misdemeanor. Laws pertaining to anyone above the age of 18 sending or receiving pictures of a minor would remain unchanged. Offending minors would be labeled as “unruly children,” meaning they would go to juvenile court, where they can be punished, but not jailed. Likely punishments would include things like probation, fines or court-ordered community service. Redefining how the law applies to “sexting” between minors is meant to keep youths who “sext” off the sex offender registry and out of jail or prison, while at the same time establishing legal consequences for sexting.

Forum Question: Should Ohio join the list of states which are changing state criminal codes to make teenage “sexting” a non-felony offense?

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