The punishment for teenagers caught sharing sexually explicit images could be lessened in Ohio.
A House bill would allow first-time offenders who are 18 or younger a chance to have their charges dismissed upon completion of a program that explains the impact of sexting.
Through the program, teens would review relevant laws, examine how sharing explicit material affects personal relationships and learn about the longevity of content posted online.
Such diversion programs already are in use in some counties, but the proposed legislation would require all local courts to implement them. First-time offenders are eligible for the program only if the minor involved is older than 13 and less than four years younger than the accused.
“The goal is a second chance,” said Republican state Rep. Brian Hill, a co-sponsor of the bill. “It gives young people who did something stupid one chance to wake up.”
The bill was introduced in the Senate on July 5. The Senate should take it up this fall. If signed into law, the bill would standardize how teen sexting cases are handled across the state.
Judge Adolfo Tornichio described the state’s current treatment of such cases as “inconsistent” in March. He said minors caught sharing sexually explicit images can be labeled as sex offenders in some counties but not in others.
Hill said the suicide of 15-year-old Camden Ross prompted him to propose the legislation.
Camden’s mother, Claudette Ross, said the local sheriff’s office called that day with questions about his involvement in the circulation of explicit photos.
At the time, Camden was a freshman at Tri-Valley High School in Muskingum County, which already offers a diversion program for teens caught sexting. Ross said the program was mentioned to her but she had no idea what it meant for her son.
Camden was dead four hours later, before he had a chance to meet with sheriffs as planned the next day and before they had a chance to explain what the program could offer him.
“Had Camden and I been more educated on the diversion program available, we would have been able to process the situation better,” Ross said in March. “Maybe he would have been here today talking to you with me.”
Prosecutors oppose the legislation, saying it could limit their options when dealing with cases that involve more serious behavior. In response, the House committee amended the bill to make clear that prosecutors could still charge a first-time offender more severely if the extent of the crime warrants it.