Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade’s office is taking steps to educate teenagers on the dangers and consequences of “sexting.”
Assistant prosecutor Sean Abbott gave presentations to sixth through 12th grade students at Miami Trace Middle School and High School, and the office has created a Sexting Diversion program for teenagers charged with sexting.
“What many teens see as harmless and innocent can be anything but. Most teens are unaware of the harsh penalties established by Ohio law. By statutory definition, sexting is the creation and sharing of child pornography,” said Abbott.
With the prevalence of smartphones, many people are engaging in sexting, including both adults and teenagers. Sexting is the act of sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images between electronic devices. Sexting is primarily done using cell phones, but also includes computers and tablets.
Unfortunately, many teenagers are unaware of the dangers and consequences of engaging in sexting, according to Abbott.
The Ohio Revised Code sets harsh penalties for teen sexting. Mere possession of an image of a minor in a state of nudity is a felony of the fifth degree, with the requirement the offender register as a Tier I sex offender. Creating an image or sending an image of a minor in a state of nudity to another person is a felony of the second degree with requirement that the offender register as a Tier II sex offender.
“Many teens fail to understand the long-term ramifications once an image is posted to the internet. A picture posted to the internet can have severely negative consequences for college admissions or future employment. Parents, friends and relatives all have access to these photos once they are posted to the internet,” said Abbott.
Furthermore, once the image reaches the internet there is no retrieval mechanism. Any person who is so inclined may download that photo and store it to their hard drive.
Sex offenders and sexual predators actively seek the very type of photos that are being created by teenagers.
“Most teenagers that send sexually explicit photos have no intention of that photo being seen by anybody other than the intended recipient. Unfortunately, quite often the intended recipient shares the photos with friends. As soon as the image is sent the original sharer has lost all control of who sees the photo or where the photo is published,” said Abbott. “It is our hope to educate not only the teenagers, but also their parents on the dangers and consequences of sexting.”
The prosecutor’s office encourages parents to be actively involved and to monitor their teenager’s technology use. The diversion program is meant to help the children as well as the parents in understanding the consequences of sexting.
“Our diversion program is tailored to educate the teens on the ramifications of sexting. They are required to research the law, perform community service, and write an essay detailing the dangers and consequences of sexting. On top of that they must meet with our office and law enforcement to discuss the issue. Successful completion of our program allows the child to avoid prosecution for the offense. Our desire is to educate the teenagers while also holding them accountable for their actions,” said Abbott.