Florida's sex laws tougher


Published: Monday, October 1, 2007 at 1:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 1, 2007 at 1:03 p.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida's sex predator penalties became among the nation's toughest Monday as a new law took effect tripling maximum sentences to 15 years for solicitation and child pornography.

It also makes Florida the first state to specifically criminalize trips to meet minors for sex - regardless of whether a child is actually contacted - and requires offenders to register e-mail and instant message handles with authorities. That information will be shared with social networking sites like Myspace.com.

"It's going to give all of us the tools to be able to make sure that not only do we enforce laws like this, but that Florida becomes known as a place that if you are a child predator or if you are a child pornographer ... there's only one place for you and that's behind bars," state Attorney General Bill McCollum said.

McCollum spoke on the Orange County Courthouse steps, flanked by four county sheriffs and other law enforcement officers. The first-term attorney general has made child sex crimes one of his top priorities, pushing the legislation and getting money to expand the state's cybercrime unit from five to 50 investigators.

The Legislature passed the sex crime bill last session and Gov. Charlie Crist signed it in June.

Previously, prosecutors could pursue sentences of only 5 years for trying to meet a child for sex or possessing more than 10 child pornography images.

Increased penalties are provided for "grooming" - or posing as a youth to gain a child's trust - and particularly heinous pornography with victims under 5 years old, sadomasochistic abuse, bestiality and sexual battery. Promotion or distribution of those images is punishable by up to 30 years in jail.

The law reclassifies possession of child pornography as a second-degree felony, while promotion and distribution becomes first-degree.

McCollum's office said Florida ranks fourth in the country in child pornography on computers, and he believes one in five Florida children are sexually solicited online.

"(Child porn images) are beyond anything you can possibly imagine, and they're not pictures. They're actually people," said Maureen Horkan, head of the attorney general's cybercrime unit. "They're small children being damaged and wounded and miserably taken advantage of, and individuals are sitting in their chairs and enjoying looking at those horrific images."

The state is also stepping up school outreach efforts with Horkan's agents, who will talk with children about staying safe online.

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