All teenagers make mistakes, but Florida’s Phillip Alpert will be paying for his youthful misstep for the rest of his life. Just after turning 18, Alpert sent out a naked photo of his 16-year-old girlfriend in a moment of anger, which he admits was the wrong thing to do. Now, he is a convicted felon and a registered sex offender under the charge of distributing child pornography. Around that same time, another Florida teen suffered the effects of sexting. Thirteen-year-old, H.W., sent a topless photo of herself to a boy in the hopes of gaining his attention. This sheltered teen was then subjected to non-stop bullying after other classmates received and spread the picture. After daily torment from her peers, she took her own life.
Clearly, sexting has immense consequences for everyone involved. The phenomenon of sexting among teens is growing. How is the law protecting our children while taking appropriate action against such technology trends?
Last year, a new law took effect in Florida that is supposed to make sexting a less extreme offense. At first glance, it seems that this is a good way to protect teens like Alpert from possibly ruining their lives by doing something admittedly hurtful, but not technically criminal by many definitions. Yet the law is a bit deceptive.
The new law does lighten the punishment for a first offense, but penalties for second and third offenses still include jail time and exorbitant fines. It also continues to label teens convicted of sexting as sex offenders. At the same time, it provides no measurement of protection for teens like H.W. who, even though they participated in sexting, end up victims of it.
This law, which only applies to minors, continues to criminalize our teens for something that they do not understand to be a crime. It is important to address this issue with your children when they receive a mobile phone equipped with texting service and regularly thereafter. Prevention is the best protection. However, if your child is accused of sex crimes because of sexting, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately to discuss legal remedies.