DoSomething.org, an organization that seeks to effect positive change, reports that 40 percent of teenagers have engaged in sexting at some point. Sexting is the transmission of sexually explicit images or video over text messages or via the use of an electronic device. DoSomething.org also reports that 40 percent of teenage girls who engage in it do so as a joke; unfortunately, it’s a joke that could land them in trouble in Florida.
Typically, two consenting adults exchanging text messages such as these would not run into trouble with the law. Minors, however, are a different story. There is now a law on Florida’s books regarding sexting. Parents and teens should know what the law says and what the consequences of violating that law may be.
Minors and sexting
According to the law, anyone younger than 18 may be charged with sexting if he or she knowingly and electronically sends images or video depicting sexual conduct or nudity to another minor. The law also states that the act must be harmful to minors. Further, merely possessing these images or videos could be considered criminal, unless the following is true:
- The minor did not forward that information to someone else.
- The minor did not solicit it.
- The minor reported or took reasonable steps to report the incident.
In addition to the Florida law, there are also several federal laws that may apply to the situation, such as the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act. This act makes it illegal to possess or distribute obscene images of a minor.
Consequences of sexting
The Florida law states that a minor charged with sexting would be cited for a noncriminal violation, if it is his or her first offense. Instead of going to juvenile court, the minor may be able to do community service work and pay a fine. Failing to comply with the citation could result in additional penalties, including a suspended driver’s license.
If the minor has already had a noncriminal violation for sexting, the next charge is a misdemeanor in the first degree which could result in the minor going to a juvenile detention center. A third or subsequent incident would be considered a felony. A felony conviction comes with must more than simply up to five years in jail; it also means losing certain rights, such as the right to own a weapon.
Adults and sexting
Electronically transmitting images or videos of minors engaged in sexual acts would be considered transmitting child pornography in Florida. The state regards this as a third-degree felony, which carries significant consequences such as jail time, fines and sex offender registry.
As technology continues to evolve, so will the law. Anyone who has questions about this topic should speak with a criminal defense attorney in Florida.