Sexting is an amalgamation of the words ‘sex’ and ‘texting’. It refers to the act of sending nude, nearly nude, or sexually explicit content (i.e. images, messages, videos) to another person via technology.
It’s estimated that 1 out of every 5 teenagers has been asked to send a nude/nearly nude image of themselves to someone within the past 12 months. While this number seems alarmingly high, it should come as some small comfort that only 1 in 20 will then actively comply. 
What’s arguably more concerning than the prevalence of teen sexting is the fact that:
Sexting between minors can fall into the category of production and/or possession of child pornography and can therefore be considered a criminal act, even if the sender and recipient are both under 18 
Minors themselves represent 7% of all child pornography arrests 
Nearly 90% of all self-generated images will end up being posted on other sites 
Understanding Australia’s Sexting Laws
As sexting is a relatively new phenomenon, there aren’t yet many defined or specific sexting laws throughout the world. Sexting itself is not illegal in Australia if it is between consenting adults, but where minors are involved it becomes a federal offence related to the use of a carriage service for the production or possession of child pornography material or child abuse material.
Under Australian national law, sending or receiving sexually nuanced or nude images that involve a minor (someone under the age of 18) can be categorised as an indecent act or child pornography. This can even apply in situations where the individual pictured looks as if they are under the age of 18, even if they are in fact over the age of 18 at the time that the picture was taken . This also applies to situations where both the sender and recipient are under 18, even though the legal age of consent in Australia is 16-years-of-age.
What this means is that, in accordance with Australia’s sexting laws, even teenagers who can lawfully engage in sexual intercourse cannot participate in consensual sexting with a trusted partner without the risk of having their names listed on the sex offenders register and possibly even facing jail-time for child pornography.
The sex offenders register, also known in Australia as the National Child Offender System, is a reporting scheme that contains information about registered child sex offenders. Any persons listed on the NCOS are required by law to keep local law enforcement representatives updated on their whereabouts and any changes to their physical appearance for a period of between 2-and-a-half-years to life.
This information is not currently available to the public but could become available to certain individuals in the instance of an enhanced criminal record check (conducted by a prospective employer or international government). Being listed on the sex offenders register can, therefore, be hugely detrimental to an individual’s job opportunities or ability to travel internationally.
Are Australia’s Sexting Laws Doing Enough To Protect Young People?
While the act of distributing nude images of a minor is an indisputably serious crime, it is perhaps not fair for consensual sexting to be seen as synonymous with it. The laws intended to protect children are instead being used to convict them, and can greatly alter the course of their lives. As Professor of Law, Raymond Arthur, states, “young people (who engage in consensual sexting) should not be categorised as producers and distributors of their own pornography” .
Furthermore, sexting is not only a youth issue, and the act of distributing a nude image of someone without that individual’s consent (whether or not they are a minor) should be defined within the law. Given the relative ease with which new media can be shared and distributed to large audiences, digital privacy and copyright is a legally problematic issue. As it stands, the solution seems to be to avoid ever sending sext messages, which can constitute victim blaming.
What Does This Mean For Parents?
While as a parent your first instinct may be to see sexting as an act of digital deviance, it’s important to recognise that, under the right circumstances, sexting can be a fun way for young, consenting adults to explore their sexuality. The greatest risks associated with sexting occur when there is a lack of consent or a breach of privacy; although, in the context of those under the legal age of consent it can become a far more serious and complex issue.
A far greater concern than the act of consensual sexting is the culture of sending unsolicited sexts, pressuring others to send sexts, and sharing private sext messages without consent. Through raising digitally literate, respectful, and responsible children, we can hope to change that culture.
Click here to learn more about the dangers of sexting. Alternatively, for advice on to support your teen through issues resulting from sexting incidents, please refer to the So You Got Naked Online brochure; a helpful resource for young people and parents.
1. Netsafe, 2017.Teens and “sexting” in New Zealand: Prevalence and attitudes
2. Raising Children Network, 2016.Sexting and teenagers.
3. Amy Adele Hasinoff, 2016.How to practice safe sexting.
4. Raymond Arthur, 2017.Sending a naked selfie can be a criminal offence – but not many teenagers know this.