Sexting and teens: Ohio looks to set up diversion program as problem grows

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Sexting and teens: Ohio looks to set up diversion program as problem grows

Sexting is rampant among teens, putting them at risk for criminal charges, school expulsion and images of their privates being displayed and shared in the digital world.

The behavior is so common that Montgomery and Clark counties set up diversion program for young offenders.

State Reps. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, and Brian Hill, R-Zanesville, introduced a bill in the Ohio House to ban sexting by anyone under age 21 and require courts to set up diversion programs similar to the one in Montgomery County.

The bill would require that the diversion programs cover legal consequences, potential sanctions such as school discipline or the loss of job opportunities, the effect on relationships, the potential for bullying and how the searchability and infinite audience online can produce long-term consequences.

The bill would allow courts to use existing programs, such as Montgomery County, and prosecutors would retain the discretion to criminally charge first-time offenders when deemed appropriate.

“This generation — a lot of pictures taken and videos recorded,” said Rezabek. “It seems it’s always a young girl sending a picture to a young boy, who then sends it to his buddies.”

That scenario played out four years ago in Oakwood with a high school freshman who ended up spending several Saturdays, attending classes in the Montgomery County diversion program. His mother praises the program as a second-chance for kids who make mistakes and an opportunity for them to learn about the law and consequences to their behavior.

“They just don’t understand the gravity of things and only have a vague understanding of law,” the mother said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect her son’s privacy.

This generation of teens and young adults constantly share candid — and sometimes sexually explicit — photos without an awareness of the long-term ramifications, the mother said. “It’s this dangerous juxtaposition: the bubble of obliviousness and they’re starting to change, they’re going through puberty.”

Sexting is the creation, sending, receiving or showing of sexually-oriented content via cell phone, email, social media or other online sources. It is legal among consenting adults, as long as elements of coercion aren’t part of it, Rezabek said.

When minors are involved in sexting, it can lead to criminal charges. Studies show that one in four teens are involved in sexting while as many as half have seen inappropriate texts, according to the Ohio State Bar Association.

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