The new Florida law passed last June has gone into effect. Beginning October 1, 2011, sexting between teens is illegal. Sexting is defined as sending by nude or "racy" pictures to another person by text messaging. If a teen is caught sexting another teen, the penalty is 8 hours of community service or a $60 fine. This relatively gentle penalty is designed to act as a warning to the offending teens to discourage future violations. If caught sexting a second time, the teen will face a first-degree misdemeanor charge, a third offense carries a felony charge with a maximum 5-year prison sentence.
Many other states have recently enacted similar laws dealing specifically with sexting between minors. Utah, Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Rhode Island and Vermont all have such a law in place for this offense. Several other states are considering enacting similar laws.
While it may seem harsh that this new law targets sexting between teens, the reason for its enactment is to reduce the consequences teens face if caught sexting. Without this legislation, teens would be prosecuted under the state's child pornography laws. Teens convicted under these laws would be required to register as a sex offender. An Orlando teen who was caught in 2009 sexting a naked picture of his girlfriend to friends and family was convicted under the child pornography laws and is now a registered sex offender. Going forward, this new sexting law gives Florida prosecutors a less severe charge with which to charge an offending minor. See more info on the new law here.
Teens and adults alike should be aware that sending or receiving a nude picture of a minor is an offense in every state. Even if you are sent a picture you did not request, you could be charged with possession. A teenager who takes a naked picture of themselves and texts it to someone could potentially face serious charges including: possession of a sexually explicit image of a minor, promotion of a sexually explicit image of a minor and distribution of a sexually explicit image of a minor.
In this day and age where technology lends ample opportunity for the exploitation of minors, laws are strict and punishment is harsh. This new law regarding teens and sexting gives teens a break, allowing them to avoid the harsh punishment intended for adults who exploit children. What are your feelings on the matter - should sexting among teens be a felony or a misdemeanor?