Sexting Gets New Laws
The practice known as ‘sexting’, sending photos of yourself or others of a sexual or indecent nature via mobile phones or via the Internet, is far more widespread and common than the law has made allowances for, but now the law is slowly catching up.
Many teenagers who think sending naked pictures of themselves to friends is just a bit of fun have been caught up in child pornography laws. The laws were drawn up to target pedophiles who seek to exploit children, not to punish youngsters who regard sending raunchy photos of themselves to friends as nothing more than naughty.
The current law is clear – under part 10.6 of the Criminal Code Act sending photos or images of a sexual nature of anyone under 18 years of age, or who appears to be under 18, comes under child pornography laws. Not only is the sender open to severe charges, but also the person who receives the images and keeps them on their phone or computer.
Penalties in NSW for child pornography can be up to 15 years in jail and being placed on the sex offender registry. In September the first man was jailed for sexting. A 42 year old man got three years for sending explicit messages and photos to nine women without their consent.
Crime statistics reveal that teenagers sexting each other are being snared in the child pornography laws. In the ACT 27 children between the ages of 10 and 17 have been charged with offences related to child pornography since 2009.
Victoria has brought in new laws covering sexting, and they could be picked up in NSW and other states. The aim of the new law is to ensure young people who engage in non-exploitative sexting don’t end up with criminal records or on the sex offenders register.
However the new Victorian law also cracks down hard on sexting without consent. Anyone who maliciously or deliberately spreads intimate images of another person – or even threatens to do so – faces prosecution. It applies to adults and people under 18. Those who illegally spread such images can be jailed for up to 10 years. Threaten to spread such images and you can be jailed for 12 months.
Under the Victorian law people under 18 who create, possess or distribute a sext of themselves or another child who is less than two years younger will not be guilty of a child pornography offence. But this will not apply to images that capture a criminal offence such as a sexual assault, and the exceptions will not apply to adults.
It remains to be seen whether NSW will adopt the Victorian law.