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Are Teenagers the New Face of Sexual Offenses?: “Sexting” Laws in Florida

Generally, when society uses the term “sexual offenders,” our brains automatically imagine the defendant to be an adult preying on children. There are, however, laws currently put into place which may protect children and teens from the actions of other teens. The most recent of events to take place in Florida involves two teens in Marion County, who were cited (but not arrested) for sending sexually explicit text messages, also known as “sexting.” “Sexting” is one of the rare sexually-based offenses where minors are the defendants and are protected by the same statute.

Florida “Sexting” Law

Under Florida law, which was recently changed in 2011 to incorporate new crimes related to technology and the provision of sexually explicit material of children, minors may serve up to 15 years in prison and must register as a sex offender. The “sexting” law, however, only applies to minors under the age of 18 and who are caught sending videos or photographs of a nude minor. Videos or photographs that depict minors in sexually explicit situations are charged under the state’s child pornography law.

“Sexting” Statistics

Currently, statistics show that sexting among teenagers has become a widely-spread practice. In 2008, a survey was conducted of 1,280 female and male teenagers and young adults; of those surveyed, about 20 percent of the 13-19 years old and 33 percent of 20-26 years old admitted to having sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves through some type of electronic means. With regards to sexually explicit text messages, 39 percent of teenagers 13 -19 years old and 59 percent of young adults have admitted to sending these types of messages to others. More worrisome, in another survey, 15 percent of teenagers had sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves to strangers that they had only had contact with online.

Definitions of the Law

The law defines “sexting” as the act of sending or possessing sexually explicit messages, photos or videos through a cell phone text messaging service. The law, however, does not limit “sexting” to just cell phone or other mobile devices. Computers or any other device that maintains and distributes data will also qualify. As for the content, the law specifically prohibits images or videos that are transmitted and distributed which depict a minor nude or are harmful to minors.

First-time minor offenders, like the two boys in Marion County, will only have to serve 8 hours of community service and are required to pay a $60 fine. Any transmissions received within 24 hours are considered one offense.

When a Minor Will Not be Charged

Just receiving a sexually explicit photo, however, does not automatically mean the minor will be prosecuted under the law. A minor, who is found to possess a photo that was distributed to him/her by another minor, will not be charged if:

  • The minor did not request or solicit the image;
  • The minor did not transmit or distribute the image to a third party; and
  • The minor reported the image to a guardian, school agent, or law enforcement official.

Fort Lauderdale Criminal Lawyer

It is important that teenagers, just like adults, understand the law and the legal consequences of their actions. Though this type of behavior is consistently depicted in the media and pop culture, it is crucial that parents educate their children and teenagers about the law and how it can be applied to them. If your child has been cited for “sexting,” they may need legal counsel. Kevin J. Kulik will be able to help inform you and your child of the next steps in the legal process. Please contact the office of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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