COLUMBUS- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio expressed concern today on Ohio House Bill 53, which seeks to create a new criminal misdemeanor violation for sexting: when teenagers send or receive nude or partially nude images of other minors electronically. While there is no specific state law that criminalizes sexting, some county prosecutors around the state have attempted to charge young people with felonies under child pornography laws. A conviction under these statutes may include imprisonment, large fines, and sex offender registration requirements.

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “It is an outrageous misuse of child pornography laws to prosecute teens who sext for high-level felonies. However, bumping the punishment down to a misdemeanor does little to address the problem and prevent sexting.”

“Legislators must look beyond the courtroom and into our classrooms and living rooms if we hope to truly prevent sexting. Parents and educators should create open and honest dialogue around these issues and inform teens about issues like respect for themselves, their peers, privacy, and the responsibility of using electronic media,” added Link.

H.B. 53 would criminalize teens that received or distributed the images, and could also include the person who is depicted in the images.

In April 2009, the ACLU sent letters to all county prosecutors and state legislators urging them to avoid criminalizing teens who sext. Additionally, the ACLU has advocated for victims of sexting to utilize the civil courts to pursue damages against those who distribute their images without their permission.

The bill’s first hearing took place at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 before the House Criminal Justice Committee. HB 53 is sponsored by Rep. Ron Maag (R-Lebanon).

“While technology may change, the struggles our young people encounter remain largely the same,” concluded Link. “For generations, teens have shown poor judgment in relationships, and trusted others to their own detriment. New technology can be frightening, but we cannot allow our fear to unfairly affect youth who need understanding and guidance from adults.”

Update: 03.16.11
ACLU of Ohio Staff Counsel Carrie Davis presented testimony to the House Criminal Justice Committee on H.B. 53. Read her testimony here.