In a 2020 survey, 1 in 6 teens over the age of 15 reported having engaged in sharing nude or sexually explicit photos of themselves.
While the phenomenon known as “sexting” sounds like a common practice, these teens should understand that it is illegal for minors to share sexually explicit photos of themselves and others. When an adult is involved in sexting a minor, they may face lifelong legal penalties if convicted.
Florida has some of the harshest sexting laws in the country. As a criminal defense lawyer who regularly works with clients accused of sex offenses, Mike G explains what teens, parents, and everyone else needs to know about sexting and the law.
What is considered sexting?
The word “sexting” is a combination of “sex” and “texting.” The term has traditionally referred to sexually explicit text messages, but sexting also includes transmitting photos, videos, and audio messages. In Florida, it’s against the law to both send AND receive explicit media depicting minors.
Sexting isn’t limited to text messages—it can also be performed through apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp. Furthermore, the courts consider “sexting” to be any electronic transmission of explicit materials, so this practice can also take place using desktop computers, laptops, and tablets.
Minors and Sexting Laws
Sexting is always a crime when someone under 18 is involved. Both adults and minors can run into severe consequences according to Florida law.
Under Florida Statute 847.0141, it is illegal for anyone under 18 to knowingly send sexually explicit or nude images or videos to another minor, even if senders are sharing photos of themselves. Simply possessing these images could be a crime unless all of the following requirements are met:
- The minor recipient did not solicit the image or video.
- The minor recipient reported or took reasonable steps to report the photos to a legal guardian, school official, or police officer.
- The minor recipient did not forward the image or video to someone else.
If a minor sends a nude or sexually explicit image to another person, it’s legally considered distributing child pornography. If a minor is found guilty of this crime, they may be forced to register as a sex offender for life.
Adults and Sexting Laws
There is no law preventing two consenting adults from exchanging explicit messages, photos, or videos that depict consenting adult participants.
However, 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—including jail time, fines, and sex offender registry.
Additionally, “revenge porn” is a first-degree misdemeanor according to Florida Statute 784.049. “Revenge porn” (officially called sexual cyberharassment) refers to the practice of transmitting or publishing sexually explicit photos of another person without that person’s consent. In other words, if someone sends you a nude photo or video, it’s illegal to turn around and share that photo or video with a third party without permission.
Even if you sent explicit images to a minor or shared someone else’s explicit photos by mistake, you need a criminal defense lawyer on your side.
Federal Sexting Laws
While there aren’t federal laws that mention sexting in particular, federal obscenity laws and federal child pornography laws make it illegal to possess explicit or suggestive images of minors no matter how the images were sent or obtained. The PROTECT Act of 2003 specifically prohibits the use of a computer to transmit explicit media of minors.
In general, state courts are typically responsible for prosecuting minors who commit federal crimes. Florida has some of the strictest, most punishing sexting laws in the country—which makes legal aid from a criminal defense lawyer even more important.
However, adults who are accused of sexting with minors are more likely to face federal charges in addition to state charges.
Legal Consequences of Sexting
There are often severe, lifelong legal consequences for those found guilty of distributing or possessing explicit images of a minor or sharing explicit images of another person without their consent.
The exact consequences and penalties vary depending on a person’s age and the actions they took leading up to and after a sexting incident.
Penalties for Minors
For minors who send explicit images, Florida law may charge them with the transmission of child pornography—a third-degree felony. In Florida, felony charges follow someone for life, even if they were minors when the offense occurred. In addition to a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 5 years in jail, felonies can prevent someone from securing housing or a job in the future. The minor may be required to register as a sex offender.
For minors who receive explicit images, did not solicit them, and are facing a first-time offense, the law may require the minor to appear in juvenile court OR complete 8 hours of community service work, pay a $60 fine, or participate in a cyber-safety program. If the minor fails to comply with court orders, a judge may suspend their driver’s license for 30 days or another penalty according to age.
For second-time offenses, minors may be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. Penalties include fines of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of no more than one year. For third-time offenses, minors face third-degree felonies.
Penalties for Adults
Penalties for people over the age of 18 are much harsher than penalties for minors. It is against Florida law for adults to sext minors in any way, whether that involves soliciting explicit images of a minor or sending explicit images to a minor.
Adults found guilty of possessing child pornography face felony charges (which involve extensive jail time and hefty fines) and are required to register as sex offenders. Registered sex offenders are restricted in where they can live and work. If other sex offenses are involved, adults may face additional jail time, thousands in fines, and life-long punishments.
Remember Your Rights. Talk to an Attorney Today.
Not knowing someone was a minor or not knowing about Florida sexting laws are not acceptable excuses in court.
If you are facing accusations of illicit sexting, you need to speak with a criminal defense attorney—today. Everyone has the right to receive a fair trial, regardless of the charges. The team at Mike G Law is here to ensure your rights are protected and that you have a chance to let your side of the story be heard.