Sexting between two consenting adults over the age of 18 is not a crime. However, sexting between a minor and an adult, or even two consenting minors, is a serious crime. Not only is sexting a crime, it can lead to other serious consequences, such as ineligibility for college financial aid, limited employment opportunities, and sex offender registration.
Since Ohio does not have any laws specific to sexting, the behavior typically falls under Ohio’s laws covering child pornography. And despite the age of sexual consent in Ohio being 16, a person must be 18 before they can legally engage in consensual sexting. This means that a 30-year-old can have consensual sex with a 16-year-old, but it is a felony offense for an 18-year-old to possess a nude picture of his 17-year-old girlfriend.
- Child Pornography: It is a crime to create, reproduce, advertise, buy, sell, or possess any obscene material or sexual material involving a minor.
- Example: A 19-year-old female uses her cell phone to take a nude photo of her 17-year-old boyfriend after he asks her to do so.
- Example: Three 18-year-old boys text each other nude photos of 16-year-old girls at their school.
- Example: Even if a person receives an unsolicited underage nude image, it is still a crime to possess the image. "I never asked him/her to send any nude photos" is NOT a defense.
- Child Endangerment: It is a crime to encourage a child to be photographed nude, or engage in any sexual activity unless there is a bona fide educational, religious, or other specified purpose.
- Example: 19-year-old girl encourages her 17-year-old friend to take a photo of herself nude to send to a crush at school.
- Disseminating Matter Harmful to Juveniles: It is a crime to share with children any material that is considered obscene or harmful to juveniles.
- Example: Adult uncle gives his 16-year-old nephew his old collection of pornographic magazines.
Serious felonies can result from the sharing of any nude or racy images of anyone under 18, whether their faces are visible or not. Punishment for such crimes can include prison, fines, and mandatory registration as a sex offender for life.
What can be done to help prevent this? Parents should talk seriously with their children about sexting and the repercussions of engaging in such behavior. It may seem like a difficult conversation now, but it can prevent further problems (bullying, harassment, jail, fines, etc.) later on.
Teenagers may not see sexting as serious -- to them it may just be a form of flirting, or acting cool. But, the effects are lasting and dangerous if they are caught, charged, and prosecuted.
If you or your child is under investigation or has been charged with a crime related to sexting, it is important that you immediately consult with an attorney BEFORE speaking with law enforcement.