Ocala, Florida — Since cell phones first saw widespread adoption in the 1990s, they’ve become not just ever present, but have developed vastly expanded capabilities, such as the ability to take and instantly share photos. This ability has lead to the phenomena of “sexting,” where people send suggestive or nude pictures to others using their cell phones. Some states have adopted laws that prescribe penalties aimed specifically at teenagers or adolescents who send such photos. These laws make the penalties for teen “sexting” less severe than if an adult would send similar photos to an under-age person.
On October 1, 2011, the law went into effect in Florida, but only recently has the Ocala Police Department began strictly enforcing the law.
The law provides a lesser-penalty alternative to punish “sexting” committed by a minor. Under the bill, a minor commits the offense of “sexting” if the minor knowingly:
- Uses a computer, or any other device capable of electronic data transmission or distribution, to transmit or distribute to another minor any photograph or video of any person which depicts nudity and is harmful to minors; or
- Possesses a photograph or video of any person that was transmitted or distributed by another minor which depicts nudity and is harmful to minors.
A first sexting violation is a noncriminal violation punishable as provided in the bill. A sexting violation committed after a non criminal violation is a first degree misdemeanor. A sexting violation committed after a first degree misdemeanor violation is a third degree felony. The bill also specifies conditions in which the sexting offense does not apply.
The new section does not prohibit the prosecution of a minor for a violation of any law of this state if the photograph or video that depicts nudity also includes the depiction of sexual conduct or sexual excitement, and does not prohibit the prosecution of a minor for stalking.
Ocala Police Department Public Information Officer, Sergeant Angy Scroble , said, “Teens don’t realize what kind of damage they are doing.”
Officials warn that if a nude photo goes “viral,” it is on the internet forever. For teens, this can have devastating consequences.
“They will not be designated as a sex offender,” Sergeant Scroble said.
OPD officers have cited four students for “sexting” in the last 30 days.
Two teen boys, age 14 and 15, of West Port high school, were cited after they used the mobile messaging app KIK to share nude photos of a girl while in class.
On October 1, 2014, two teens — a girl and a boy — were cited after the girl sent a nude photo of herself to the boy using the mobile app SnapChat. Police said that in text messages from the girl to the boy, she wrote that she didn’t care if she got in trouble.
Civil citations (for first offense) were issued to all four teens in which a court appearance is required.
“The electronic/internet world they are growing up in only expands the levels that these incidents can escalate to, and they do these things without thought, for there is a level of disconnection with what you are doing when you do it remotely; many are very brave on Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, Texting, etc., in ways they aren’t when face to face with someone. And, as our youth tend to do because they are young and self-involved, they think nothing of the consequences of their actions; no thought for harm caused to another occurs to them. This civil citation is an opportunity to learn early that this behavior is unacceptable and can cause great harm, without incurring a criminal history. But, there is only one (1) opportunity as this noncriminal citation is only for first offenses; the level escalates to the criminal level with the next offense. I feel that in putting this law into place in the way that it is written, the State allowed for the opportunity, and obligation, of us as a community to teach our youth acceptable behavior prior to being given criminal charges,” Sergeant Scroble said.
Juvenile judges can choose to punish a teen who commits a sexting offense with a verbal warning without requiring any other penalty.
Florida imposes a fine of $60 on first-time juvenile sexting offenders. Subsequent offenders may face more significant penalties.
Community service or counseling
A judge may order a teen who commits a sexting offense to perform community service. The court may also order a teen to attend individual or family therapy.
Probation is also possible for juveniles sexting offenders. A teen on probation must typically report to a probation officer, stay in school, and comply with any other orders the court decides.
Teen sexting — for subsequent offenders — might result in a court ordering the juvenile into a detention center, home confinement, group home, or other placement location.
During some court appearances, parents have told judges that “sexting” is just “kids being kids.” Authorities say this is poor judgment on the parents part. They say a parent would quickly change their mind if their son or daughter were to commit suicide over a nude photo being passed around a school or broadcast over the internet.
Florida has had several cases since 2009, in which teen girls have committed suicide after they sent nude photos to a boy and he then sent it to all of his friends.
Thirteen (13) year-old Beth Shields, of Tampa, a middle school student of Hope Witsell, ultimately took her own life when the taunting and bullying by other students became too much to handle after she sent a nude photo to her boyfriend.
Employers have also been known to turn down job applications or terminate employment for an individual if it is determined a nude photo of that person is floating around in cyber space.
Seargeant Angy Scroble said, ” The civil citations for this were developed and began use in 2012. I personally wrote the policy and procedures for use and requested the crime code be enacted when I was the supervisor of Youth Development. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office actually created the citation form, got it approved by the Clerk’s Office, and shared it with us.”
Police say that parents need to know what their children are doing and cell phones need to be monitored. It is the responsibility of a parent to protect their children.
Authorities say in today’s society, parenting has become lazy and, all too often parents are under-involved in many areas of their children’s lives.
Teens: The person (your friend) you send a nude photo to today, will be a bully tomorrow when that photo is being passed around.