Gendered Sentencing in Teen Texting Case

Two Ohio teens–both 15–were sentenced yesterday “for their role in nude photos of minors found on a cell phone.”

According to this judge’s definition of Ohio Chapter 2907 (sex offenses), two teens exchanging nude photos–either of themselves or other teens–constitutes delivering, disseminating, providing or presenting

to a juvenile, a group of juveniles, a law enforcement officer posing as a juvenile, or a group of law enforcement officers posing as juveniles any material or performance that is obscene or harmful to juveniles

We can quibble about that later, but here’s what I find really interesting: the boy and girl involved in this case received different sentences.

Here are the things the two sentences have in common:

*Mandatory counseling
*No cell phone use for a 30 day probationary period
*100 hours of community service

According to the Middletown Journal, however, the boy will also be under house arrest for 30 days. The girl, on the other hand, was sentenced by Judge Mike Powell to

prepare an assignment on teen motivation to engage in behavior commonly termed as “sexting” and its consequences, then present a report before a four-person court clinic staff panel.

I find this perplexing.

Commenters on the Journal piece contend that the boy is receiving a harsher sentence because he was ultimately the one in possession of the pictures, potentially with intent to distribute. But I have to wonder if the sentence doesn’t have to do with societal expectations about teen sexuality: The boy, as the sexual aggressor, must be kept under lock and key to ensure that he doesn’t stray; the girl must examine her motivations and justify them to members of the court.

What if it had been the other way around? What if a girl had nude pictures of a boy on her phone? Would she be under house arrest? Would this case even have made it to court?


4 Responses to Gendered Sentencing in Teen Texting Case

  1. ubuntucat says:

    It would have made it to court, but she wouldn’t have been under house arrest. On the surface, this looks like “sexism against men,” but it really is just a manifestation of society’s patronizing attitude to women’s sexuality (“Oh, poor innocent female who got taken advantage of… you couldn’t possible initiate anything sexual; that’d be unladylike”).

  2. pandanose says:

    I think it’s an example of Patriarchy Hurts Everyone. And I’m not convinced a case with the genders switched would ever have seen the light of day. Much of the hoopla around these cases is intertwined with the narrative of teen girls as victims, and that’s a status we don’t allow teen boys to nearly the same degree–see the myth that it’s not really rape when older women rape underage boys, or that boys can’t be raped (by girls, at least) at all.

  3. annajcook says:

    I agree that this is Patriarchy Hurts Everyone. The egregeous thing in my mind is that we’re criminalizing sexual expression by teens in the first place; the difference in the sentencing is just a manifestation of the way we gender sexuality and assume dudes are aggressors and women who act sexually are somehow pathological because of that behavior. It’s amazing to me that people aren’t more aware of how they hold that sort of double standard — or maybe they are aware, and they think it’s true/appropriate. Sigh.

  4. dangerfield says:

    Don’t want to derail this discussion, but I am interested in starting a feminist sports blog.

    Anyways, back to the topic: Great post. I totally agree that the application of the law in this case is revealing–it’s also difficult for me to understand the justification of the different sentence because of possession. I won’t make judgment on which punishment is more/less harsh, because I think there is a really negative “You ought to know better because you’re female” assumption in the research assignment, but the gap here is really problematic:

    I am surprised to see so many people believe that being male and possessing sexted photos constitutes the mens rea for distributing said photos more so than being female and having taken and sent sexted photos does. Both teens had means of wider distribution. I guess its a continuation of the classic meme of male exploitation of female sexuality, which isn’t necessarily irrational, but certainly unfair in this case, or at least, the “blind” eyes of the law.

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