How Ohio Program Tries to Protect Kids from Harsh Sexting Penalties


Kids’ sexting has been terrifying and befuddling adults since it took off in recent years when unlimited data plans armed a generation with cell-phone cameras, says Redbook. No one knows how many kids do it: One study reported 20 percent of teens, another 4 percent. (In both cases, a larger group admitted to forwarding someone else’s photo.) Because the images are, by definition, child pornography, in most jurisdictions sexting by kids — be it sharing a self-portrait or forwarding one — is a felony, an adult crime punishable with jail time and mandatory registration as a sex offender.

Yet it’s clear that kids are different from the sleazebags on To Catch a Predator. Stakeholders on all sides of the issue — parents, educators, researchers, and prosecutors — are learning that it’s tough to punish and deter teen sexting without destroying young lives in the process. How does a family survive a sexting scandal? A unique program in Ohio tries to protect kids from the cruelest penalties of the criminal justice system. It launched in 2009 with a simple goal: to educate, not prosecute, teens who make bad judgment calls.

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