Teen sexting has legal consequences

The dark side of social media
Teen sexting consequences. (Source: WOIO)
Teen sexting consequences. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Social media has a dark side that is familiar to many teenagers.
With a click of the mouse or a "send" button, the damage is done in an instant.
Teenagers "sexting"-- sending explicit photos over cellphones-- or even posting those photos or videos online can do more than just damage their reputation if they're caught.

Teens or children sending nude photos to each other or posting them online is a crime here in Ohio.
The law doesn't have an exception when it comes to graphic photos of children under 18.
"If there is some kind of major sexual offense here, that's going to follow them for life. So there are real ramifications for this behavior," said criminal defense attorney Susan Moran.
Moran is dealing with a case like this right now.
"These children that received it, because they're juveniles under 18, their receipt of this material, knowing receipt of this material has now put them all in hot water," she said.

Teenagers who get caught have to deal with more than their parents.
In court, they could face a felony and two to eight years in prison. 

In more serious cases, they may even have to register as a sex offender.
But sending the photos isn't the only way to get in trouble.
"Viewing that is a crime. Viewing a picture of a child in a nudity state is a crime," Moran said.
Whether or not that would hold up in court depends on the case.
"You have to have knowledge, okay. So one of the defenses would be, 'I didn't know what I was looking at,'" Moran said. 
Their digital footprint means those damaging photos could be around for awhile.
So what should parents do? Moran recommends getting involved in your child's online presence.
"You've always got to look over your kid's shoulder. I mean it's really incumbent on us as parents to know what our kids are doing," Moran said.

 Moran believes the penalties are too harsh for teenagers who are caught posting or sending these kinds of photos to each other.
She'd like to see new legislation that would protect them from felonies like this.
"Some sort of affirmative defense, that if it's consensual between juveniles and it's not hurtful, I'd like to see these children protected from prosecution," Moran said.

You can find out more information on sexting as a crime from the Ohio State Bar Association.

Follow Cleveland 19 News:  

Download the Cleveland 19 News app

Copyright 2016 WOIO. All rights reserved.