According to Ohio state law, convicted child pornographers are required to carry a Tier 2 sexual offender classification, requiring registration as a sex offender for twenty years. In this case, a teen girl from Licking Valley High School is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, a second-degree felony; and possession of criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony.
In case you made it this far without passing judgment on “yet another child pornographer,” the girl charged is fifteen years old, her “criminal tool” was a cell phone and MMS (multimedia messaging service). Her “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material” were nude photos of herself. Putting those together, you can deduce that she took nude photos of herself with her cell phone. The Licking County prosecutor, Ken Oswalt, has received reports of 20 similar cases among school age teens, and he has been traveling to the area schools with an assembly program that discusses the consequences of such actions.
While the teen girl who sent these nude pictures of herself to others via MMS is not alone, she has been the only person arrested. She also spent a weekend in jail awaiting arraignment and a bond hearing. The statute she has been accused of breaking has exemptions in place that allows parents and/or guardians to take pictures of their naked children for a list of acceptable purposes. Interestingly, the statute does not provide the same exemption for the child themselves. While the consequences for her have already been laid out by the prosecutor in the charges, the recipients of her messages may be also facing prosecution for their passive role(s) in this incident.
One thing that falls on the side of the accused girl is the discretion of the judge in the case, since the defendant’s age allows for flexibility on the “sex offender” label. Unlike most mandatory sentencing guidelines, this case allows the judge to decide based on the situation, rather than the black and white handcuffs placed on most public servant decision makers. At least the Ohio lawmakers had the foresight to build in judgment when considering sentencing, even though they omitted an exemption in this law for individuals to possess nude photos of themselves.
What is going on in Licking County, Ohio? There is apparently a wave of teens taking and sharing nude photos of themselves and only one girl has been arrested? There are concerns among area residents that this girl is being subjected to the prosecution due to her status as a foster child. Without biological or adoptive parents to provide the resources necessary for an adequate defense, this case may be a slam dunk for the prosecution. What better way to show your are doing something about child pornography than to railroad this girl to prison for two felonies and a sex offender tag for the next twenty years?
The story here is not only the child pornography law in place to “protect the children,” but the ill-written legislation that did not account for a person’s right to possessing pictures of themselves. It also sounds like Ken Oswalt seeks a name for himself by singling this girl out and prosecuting her, while ignoring approximately 20 others. As an act of principle, I would like to see her cleared of all charges, the law itself re-written, and an investigation into the county prosecutor, as this smells somewhat similar to the Duke rape case.