Thursday, January 07, 2010

Ohio House: Sexting Legislation Silenced

Teens Face Felony Charges While Bill Sits Idle in Committee

COLUMBUS—State Representative Ron Maag (R–Lebanon) today decried the inaction of Chairman Tyrone Yates and Democrats in the House Criminal Justice Committee on House Bill 132, legislation carefully crafted to address sexting(1) between minors in the state of Ohio.

“For nearly a year I have reached out numerous times to Chairman Yates including monthly letters, formally asking him to schedule additional hearings and a vote on House Bill 132,” Maag said. “I have spoken directly with Attorney General Richard Cordray and heard from concerned parents and members of the legal community who all gave their staunch support for this legislation. Meanwhile, teens across Ohio are facing felonies for these telecommunicated mistakes.”

“Sexting” is not currently addressed in the Ohio Revised Code. Therefore, a minor who receives or sends a nude photo of themselves or another minor may be charged with a child pornography felony and labeled as a sex offender for life.

House Bill 132 would make the creation, exchange and possession of nude materials between minors by a telecommunications device a misdemeanor of the first degree. A felony charge would not be ruled out, but reserved for cases where the true intent of the crime is malicious.

“Protecting the children of the State of Ohio is a fundamental part of the job of a prosecutor,” said Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel. “As technology changes, the legislature and law enforcement must work together to adequately provide the protection that children need. The failure of the leadership of the House to allow the legislature to move on the “sexting” legislation continues to tie the hands of law enforcement across the state as we try to protect our youth.”

House Bill 132 was in response to increased incidents of sexting in Ohio. The first prosecuted case occurred in Mason when nude photos of a 15-year-old girl were found on a freshman boy’s cell phone. Both teens were charged with a misdemeanor for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but the judge has complete discretion over what sentences they may receive.

In addition, the recent death of Jessica Logan has prompted national awareness among teens and families. Logan was an 18-year-old girl from a Cincinnati-area high school who committed suicide after a nude picture of herself sent via text message to her boyfriend was later spread throughout the school. Jessica’s mother, Cynthia Logan, has taken Jessica’s story on a national campaign to alert teens of the dangers and implications of sexting.

“What these teens need is education about how this type of behavior could affect their lives,” Maag said. “This legislation brings needed balance to Ohio law holding teenagers accountable for their actions without having to charge them as sexual offenders. I hope this effort will also raise awareness amongst parents for how serious and common sexting has become. It will make our young people think twice about what they are sending to one another."