According to the FBI, the number of juveniles “sexting” is increasing. Recent studies indicate that 20 percent of teens, the majority of which are girls sent naked or semi-nude images of themselves or posted them on online. The estimate is that one in six teens ages 12 – 17using cell phones have either received naked or nearly nude pictures via txt message from someone they know.

The increasing problem in Clark County has lead Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Monnin and Clark County Prosecutor Andrew Wilson to send a letter to parents in the community.

In his letter, Judge Monnin notes that his court has seen a “disturbing rise in the number of inappropriate, sexually-based materials that are created by, distributed to, and feature the youth of our community, also known as sexting”.

The judge notes in his letter to parents that sexting- related offences are “delinquent acts and most are classified as felony-level offenses”.

Because of the increasing number of juveniles being found in our community, the Juvenile Court, law enforcement and Clark County Prosecutor’s Office have joined together to create a diversion program Stop Texting Obscene Pictures aka STOP.

The hope is to change the behaviors of those youngsters participating in sexting activities. Juveniles who are arrested for sexting or charged with related offenses will be screened to determine if they can be approved for the STOP program. Exceptions to the program would be if the child has participated in sexting in a “malicious nature” or if they have already been through the program. IF the child has been through the juvenile justice system, and has already demonstrated non-compliance, they would not qualify for the program.

Wilson’s letter outlines the meaning of the term sexting. He notes that sexting among minors is a crime. The crime involves sending nude or sexually-explicit photos or videos. He notes that the “statues that address this type of behavior are predominantly felony level”. He further alerts parents to the fact that the penalty for this crime is the possibility of imprisonment and sex-offender classification.

Wilson notes that such a video or photo is child pornography even if the minor consents. It is a crime to create, send, distribute or possess photos and videos of this nature. There are no blurred lines where child pornography is concerns according to all information available.

Individuals are committing a crime by sending a nude or sexually-explicit photo or video even if it is of an adult. Anyone who sends materials of this nature to a minor has committed a crime. If the items are sent from a minor to a minor, the prosecution takes place in the Juvenile Court. A minor is described in the law as anyone under the age of 18. If the crime is committed by someone over 18, prosecution will be in Common Pleas Court for adults. Seniors in high school normally fall into both categories as many turn 18 before graduation and would be prosecuted as an adult.

Monnin clearly defines the requirements of the STOP program in his letter to parents. Any child approved for the program will be required to admit to the behavior that resulted in charges. The family will need to submit all electronic devices to the court for examination and agree to forfeit any device that contains child pornography.

A probation officer will be assigned to each participant in the program and mandatory meetings will need to be held. The probation officer will set the rules for the STOP participant and they must comply with said rules. Usernames and passwords will be required to be turned over for all social media accounts and children may not access social media while in the program. Cell phones and internet usage will also cease during participation.

Educational classes will be part of the mandatory program participation with a timeline of 120 days for the program. Parents will also be required to participate in portions of the program and will need to be responsible for monitoring children to assure compliance.

The participation payoff for the STOP program for juvenile offenders charged with sexting will be that all charges would be dismissed and no additional court orders would be made.

Those who do not quality for STOP or do not complete STOP will be prosecuted and follow the regular court process. Consequences for a guilty finding could include probation, juvenile detention center time, or placement in the custody of the “Department of Youth Services “until the age of 21. In some cases the classification of “sex offender” could be assigned to a child who will last for the rest of his or her life.

Anyone over the age of 18 will be prosecuted as an adult through the Clark County Court Common Pleas Court and would not be eligible for the STOP program.

“Flirting in the digital age” notes Wilson regarding sending these photos is a crime and must be prosecuted. Wilson notes that while the acknowledgement of teenage behavior is not ignored, parents must be aware that the “creation, distribution and possession of a nude or sexually-explicit photo or video of a minor is a crime”.

Schools will be showing a video to children regarding the criminal aspects of sexting. Information regarding the STOP program will be presented as part of the video.

Parents need to understand the consequences of sexting and become involved in their children’s use of social media and texting to catch behaviors that may lead to criminal prosecution.

Having a frank discussion with children has become more than about the birds and the bees. The FBI urges parents to have their children think about the consequences of taking, sending or forwarding a sexual photo. Cell phones are great fun if the photos are of events or individuals, but someone who is nude or semi-nude and underage is not a photo to be taken or shared. The loss of permission to participate on a sports team, membership in school clubs and alienation from other social activities for youngsters can occur if sexting exists. Being admitted to college and other education opportunities can be lost forever.

Talk to your child about never taking a photo of themselves that they would not want everyone to see. Teachers, classmates, family, grandparents and family friends could see the photos if they go viral on the internet or are shared in text messages.

Remind them that once you hit the send button, you lose all control of the images and the text that is being sent. A boyfriend or girlfriend today may end up sending your photo across the community, the country and the world if it gets on the internet.

Forwarding a photo with sexual content is your child’s responsibility and it is a crime. Child pornography is a serious offense and you can’t talk your way out of it by pleading ignorance.

Help your child by allowing them to share with you if they receive a nude or semi-nude photo. Report it to law enforcement immediately. Children should not delete the message, but should go to you or the school principal or teacher for help.

Sexting, although innocent in the minds of many young people is a crime with victims who have to live with the decisions made by juveniles and young adults who are unaware or unconcerned about the consequences. The best thing for parents and guardians to do right now is to have the conversation with the kids so that they understand why the video is being presented at schools and how important it is to trust their instincts to tell an adult if they are a victim or receive a photo or video.