Ohio Sexting Laws for Teens and Minors

Teens and minors who sext face possible misdemeanor or felony charges in Ohio.

By , Attorney

Ohio law prohibits sexting by or with a minor. Like many states, Ohio doesn't have teen sexting laws, so these acts fall under the state's preexisting laws and penalties relating to child pornography and obscenity.

What Is Sexting?

"Sexting" is the sending of nude or sexually suggestive images (usually photos) electronically, whether through text messaging, social media, chat boards, or email. Sexting has become especially common among teenagers—many of whom are minors—and can easily be used to cyberbully or harass.

Does Ohio Prohibit Teen Sexting?

For the most part, yes. In Ohio, sexting images of minors and sexting images to minors can be prosecuted under the state's existing laws relating to child pornography, child endangerment, and dissemination of harmful material to minors. Which kind of law applies depends on the conduct in question. Both adults and minors can face sexting charges. Ohio's law defines "minor" as a person younger than 18.

Consensual sexting where both parties are 18 or 19 is not generally prohibited because both parties are adults. But if one party is a minor, or if a sext depicts a minor, sexting is illegal.

Ohio's Laws and Penalties for Sexting Involving Minors and Teens

Teenagers tend to think sexting is harmless and legal if it's consensual. But the law says otherwise. And Ohio's child pornography and obscenity laws don't distinguish between acts committed by adults and by minors. Just like an adult, a minor can be prosecuted under these laws.

Child Pornography

Sexting images of a minor falls under Ohio's child pornography laws, which make it a felony for anyone to:

  • create, share, or possess an obscene image depicting a minor
  • create, share, or knowingly possess an image of a minor participating in sexual conduct or contact
  • create or transfer an image of a child in a nude state, or
  • recklessly possess or view an image of a child in a lewd exhibition of nudity.

Sending and receiving. State law penalizes both sending and receiving sexual images of minors that are obscene or sexually oriented or that portray nudity. A minor can violate this law even by sexting a selfie.

Penalties. The penalty for creating or sending obscene, sexually oriented, or nude images of minor is a second-degree felony and punishable by two to 12 years in prison. Offenses for possession of such images range from a third- to a fifth-degree felony, with the harshest punishments reserved for repeat offenders and offenses involving obscene or sexually oriented images. A third-degree felony carries a punishment ranging from 9 to 60 months in prison. People convicted of fourth- and fifth-degree felonies face 6 to 18 months' prison time.

Endangering Children

Encouraging a minor to be photographed nude or in an obscene or sexually oriented manner is a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of two to 12 years. To be convicted, an offender must have known or been in a position where he or she reasonably should have known the content of the material.

Disseminating Harmful Material to a Minor

Ohio law also prohibits sending "harmful" or obscene material to, or sharing it with, a minor. Harmful material includes images showing nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual activity that are considered "indecent" (but not necessarily "obscene").

A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor. But, if the material shown or sent to the minor was obscene, the penalty increases to a fifth-degree felony. Fourth-degree felony penalties apply when obscene material is shown or sent to a minor younger than 13.

Are Teen Sexting Charges Handled in Juvenile or Adult Court?

Sexting cases involving offenders younger than 18 may be handled in juvenile court rather than adult court. In juvenile court, judges can often exercise greater discretion in sentencing, including ordering treatment, curfews, monitoring, and community service.

Teens who are 18 or 19 will face adult charges and penalties. Minors who are 14 or older and charged with a felony can be transferred to Ohio's adult court and face adult penalties.

Sex Offender Registration for Juveniles

In Ohio, adults must register as sex offenders for convictions of child pornography laws and child endangerment laws.

A court may also order a minor age 14 or older to register as a sex offender for committing these and other sex offenses. Ohio's laws regarding juvenile sex offender registration and notification (JSORN) are complex, with various implications based on the offender's age, prior record, and current offense. It's best to consult an attorney if you have questions about JSORN.

Speak to an Attorney

Any charges that stem from a sexting-related crime—child pornography, child endangerment, or disseminating harmful material to a minor—can result in serious consequences for those involved. If you or your child has been questioned by the police or charged with a crime, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. An experienced attorney will be able to provide you with legal advice and information on the potential consequences of the charges against you.

(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2152.10, 2152.12, 2152.19, 2152.191, 2152.82, 2152.831, 2901.21, 2907.01, 2907.31, 2907.321, 2907.322, 2907.323, 2919.22, 2929.14, 2950.01 (2021); State v. Young, 525 N.E.2d 1363 (Ohio S. Ct. 1988); State v. Tooley, 872 N.E.2d 894 (Ohio S. Ct. 2007).)

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