Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages, photographs or video, primarily between mobile phones via MMS, SMS or different mobile phone apps. It can also include posting this type of information online such as on social networking sites.

Sharing images and text messages may seem like fun, a bit of flirting between young adults or sharing some funny jokes, sometimes things can go a bit far.  Sending sexually explicit images, or sexting, can have serious and long term consequences and legal ramifications.  Young people need to protect their image both online and offline, and they do this by considering how they manage their own data, their own online reputation.  A good rule of thumb, is if they would not say it to or show it to a parent, then they should not do so online.

Is Sexting Legal?

The act of taking, receiving, forwarding or asking for someone to send you (soliciting) sexual images of yourself or your friends who are under 18 years of age risk being charged under child pornography laws in Australia. Even if all participants are willing, young people are still at risk of committing a crime when taking, receiving, forwarding or asking for (soliciting) sexual images of anyone.

The charges for child pornography under Australian law can lead to jail for up to 15 years and may include your name being placed on the sex offenders registry which is a public register.

A simple guide to follow if you are under 18 years old or just want to maintain a clean digital reputation is:

  • No sexy pictures of yourself or anyone else under 18yrs, this can be deemed the creation of child pornography.
  • No sending or forwarding of sexy pictures of yourself or anyone else under 18yr, this can be deemed as the transmission of child pornography.
  • Receiving or saving/keeping a sexy image of someone under 18yr, this can be deemed as possession of child pornography.
  • Do not ask anyone under the age of 18yr to send you a sexy image of themselves, this can be deemed as soliciting child pornography.

Social Implications of Sexting

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for young people to realise the damaging outcome of sharing provocative or explicit images, messages or posts, especially when they think they can trust the people they are sharing with.

Once you hit send, there is no delete button and your personal images and words can spread very rapidly.  When posted online it is almost impossible to remove them or limit access to them.

Sexting can have long term implications, the embarrassment does not end as long as those images and messages can be viewed and read, over and over again and will continue to damage a young persons reputation for a long time to come.  For example, a young girl takes a provocative photo of herself naked and partially covered with a sheet in bed then sends it to her boyfriends mobile phone.  Or maybe to her girlfriends phone, to ask if she should send it to her boyfriend.  She breaks up with her boyfriend or has a fight with her girlfriend and suddenly these personally mages are shared with nasty comments via mobile phone sms or on a social networking site for friends and schoolmates to see.

Sexting images can be used for the purposes of cyberbullying, cyberstalking or sexual harassment.

Where do I go for Help?

If you suspect your child may be involved in a sexting incident that involves school friends, then their school may be able to help.  For more information contact your childs school.  You may also consider seeking professional support and counselling for them.

Visit our Cybersafety Websites resource page to find out more about Counselling resources, online Kids Help and other resources for Parents.

You can also arrange for Cybermums to provide our Cybermums Cybersafety Workshop for you and your friends to get hands-on training in how to apply security to devices and applications and how to monitor your childs online activity.