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Florida eases penalties for teen sexting

By the CNN Wire Staff
October 1, 2011 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
Florida passed legislation easing the penalty for sending or receiving nude photos or videos.
Florida passed legislation easing the penalty for sending or receiving nude photos or videos.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New Florida law eases penalties for teens engaged in "sexting"
  • Previously, they could have been charged with a felony, forced to register as a sex offender
  • Law provides for range of penalties, from fine to felony charge

(CNN) -- Before Saturday, a Florida teenager who sent or received nude photos or video could have been charged with a felony and forced to register as a sex offender.

But a new law, recognizing the proliferation of cell phones and computers, eases the penalties for "sexting" infractions.

A first offense is punishable by eight hours of community service or a $60 fine; the second is a misdemeanor and the third is a felony.

State Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, sponsored the legislation, which was approved in June.

"When our child pornography laws were written, they failed to take into account advances in technology, such as cell phones," Abruzzo said in a statement published on the website of CNN affiliate WPBF in West Palm Beach. "(This bill) modernizes these laws to ensure that children's lives are not ruined due to youthful indiscretion. This reform will let our youth know that such behavior is wrong without labeling them sex offenders for the rest of their lives."

CNN could not immediately reach Abruzzo for comment Saturday.

Under House Bill 75, teens who receive explicit images won't be charged if they took reasonable steps to report it, did not solicit the image and did not send it to someone.

A recent Associated Press/MTV poll of Internet behavior found one of three teen and young adult respondents said they've taken part in "sexting," which includes sending sexually charged texts. The survey is part of MTV's "A Thin Line" campaign, a multi-year effort to stamp out digital abuse.

Seventy-one percent of the survey's respondents said that "sexting" is a problem for Web users their age.

Ten percent of respondents who said they'd exchanged sexual messages said they'd done so with people they know only online -- a steep drop from the 29 percent who said they'd done so in 2009.

"There's probably a lot of kids who don't realize how this (sexting) could impact their life," Karl Bergstrom of Fort Myers told CNN affiliate WINK.

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