Ohio county creates program for those charged with sexting

February 07, 2011|By DON AINES |

Washington County does not have a dedicated program for dealing with juveniles involved in sexting, but an Ohio county has created a program that requires children to surrender their cell phones, to perform community service and to receive education on the legal consequences.

“We found, obviously, that the person who sent the picture ... is just as culpable” as the person receiving the image, said Mathias H. Heck Jr., prosecuting attorney for Montgomery County, Ohio, and past president of the National Children’s Alliance. However, he said, charging juvenile first-time offenders with a felony was deemed too harsh.

Under the program created two years ago, juveniles charged with sexting are screened by a diversion officer with the prosecutor’s office and, if accepted into the program, are under supervision for a minimum of six months, Heck said.

In addition to surrendering their phones, juveniles receive education not only about the legal consequences of sexting, but the effects on the victims, age-appropriate sexual behavior, and responsible use of cell phones and other communications technology, Heck said.

If the program is successfully completed, the juvenile will either not be charged or the charges will be dismissed. Otherwise, charges can be filed with the juvenile courts, according to a press release issued when the program was announced in 2009.

About 60 juveniles have been referred to the diversion program since its inception, Heck said.

When the program started, Heck cited a study that indicated about one in five teens had sent or posted nude photos of themselves and 31 percent had received images. In two-thirds of cases, the photos are to or from a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Following are tips on the subject of sexting for parents and teenagers:

Tips for parents include:

  • Talk to your children about their sexual behavior.

  • Know what your child is posting and sending.

  • Check texting history often.

  • Look into parental alert software.

  • Pay attention to cell phone bills.

Tips for teens include:

  • Do not take, send or keep sexual photos. It is illegal.

  • If you receive a sexual photo, delete it or tell an adult.

  • You cannot trust everyone.

  • Spreading these messages is inappropriate and hurtful.

Source: Mathias H. Heck Jr., prosecuting attorney for Montgomery County, Ohio, and past president of the National Children’s Alliance

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