Sexting and the law: why we are all confused

sextingimageWhen it comes to sexting and the law, it seems our families, schools and the law enforcers themselves are increasingly concerned, confused and frustrated.  With good reason. The technology our children are immersed in has led to profound changes to the way they socialise, interact and even flirt. As a result, widespread sexting leaves our kids vulnerable not only to issues of personal safety, humiliation and harasssment but also to the wrath of the law.

What is sexting?

Sexting is the sending of any sexually explicit image via the internet or a mobile device.

 Why is sexting and the law so confusing?

At present there are no laws regarding sexting, instead it comes under laws that pertain to child pornography, voyeurism and indecency. Obviously, these laws were created primarily to combat the exploitation of children by adults. Our teenagers, their hormones, their developing brains and their portable devices, were not part of the equation.

The laws also differ from state to state.

Why the Laws are out of date

As sexting laws come under child pornography laws, offending teens can be convicted of far more serious offences than their behaviour intended.

For example, two consenting teens can be charged with child pornograghy if they exchange sexually explicit photos, which carries a prison sentence and a sex offender registration.

 The changes that need to happen

Recently the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre  released a report based on an evaluation of current laws and undertaken in consultation with the young people of NSW. Here is a summary of some of the recommendations:

  •  Initiate National conversation to bring State and Commonwealth laws in line.


  • Amend the Child Protection Act 2000 (NSW) to state that no child under 18 can be registered as a sex offender.


  • Ensure laws respond differently and appropriately to consensual and non- consensual sexting. Most will agree that whilst consensual sexting still comes under the realms of stupidity, it does not carry the malicious weight of non-consensual sexting and hence must be dealt with less severely.


  • There is a need for a ‘close in age’ defence so that a 19 year old asking for photos of a 17 year old girlfriend is not classified as a sex offender. (this is obviously very different to a 19 year old asking the same request of an 11 year old).


  • Kids need more education on their rights and the laws pertaining to their mobile devices and the internet


In short, kids need to know that they are protected against sexting and bullying. They need to know that there is a wider range of responses that are more appropriate to the offences and the penalties must reflect these.

I am sure that these recommendations will be taken into consideration when creating new laws for this new world, however I believe it is imperative that we have official guidelines in place to combat sexting and bullying that are transparent and consistent between schools and police departments.  Certainly some schools are right on top of these issues, but there are still so many that are severely lagging behind and leaving these issues up to outside forces. Often as the laws are not relevant, these cases are responded to with confusion and inconsistency.

Ultimately one would hope that we can educate our kids about the dangers, the embarrassment and humiliation, the threats to reputation, future employment and education that can so often result from the sharing of these images. We need to ensure that whilst many see sexting as merely an exploration of sexuality or harmless fun, the complete loss of control of your image once posted online, is certainly a less than enjoyable experience for the kids and the families concerned, and legally,  leaves them vulnerable to serious repercussions.

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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. I think it’s great that law makers are trying to address this issue. We spend a lot of time trying to protect our kids from harm and having appropriate laws needs to be part of that. Thanks for taking the time to review the report and for helping out the mum on our forum.

  2. Renee at Mummy, Wife, Me

    Really interesting post thanks and relevant to me at the moment. I think we all need more education on this, not only for our kids’ sake, but us too. Someone close to me is dealing with an issue regarding this at the moment. I don’t want to say too much online, but the person is very upset and doesn’t know where to turn. We could all do with having the laws a little clearer and promoted better.

  3. EssentiallyJess

    Such interesting times we live in!
    It does concern me though that they want to change the law so that those under 18 will not be listed as a sex offender. Only because there are going to be those who need to be listed as such, because of their actions. Complicated issue though

  4. Blooming complex and I have a sudden urge to crawl under a sofa. I hope my kids don’t do this… oh please don’t… and thank, thank, thank goodness none of these devices were around when I was young and very, very stupid.

  5. I’m with Seana. I think I need to crawl under the couch. But it is a real issue and as a life coach I have come across it, not so much with texting, but with Facebook where girls have been urged to PM photos of themselves to a boy who then shares it with his mates. It is very distressing. As a result I have spoken to my daughter about it on several occasions trying to instill in her to NEVER take inappropriate photos of herself for anyone. No matter how much she trusts them. Digital pics can end up anywhere.

  6. Trish

    It is a very complex issue. I am glad I have a few years before I need to worry about it and the laws will hopefully change to address the issues.
    I’m still going to ‘work’ on my 7yr olds now about always behaving appropriately online and never taking or sharing inappropriate photos – they love to take funny face ones .

  7. Thanks for outlining where this issue stands at the moment. My daughter is only 2 and half, part of me is terrified of what kind of technology will be around when she is old enough for phones and the internet, but another part of me is hopeful that the law will have caught up by then, and there will be cleared guidelines and policies around how this kind of thing is dealt with.

  8. Lisa Wood

    We haven’t had to deal with Sexting with our boys {yet} but I would be very concerned about it. The laws do not protect our kids enough, and those that do break the law know how that the court system is not harsh enough.
    I understand that we need to have the laws changed so that if teenagers who are closer in age are protected but I am not comfortable with under 18 year old’s not going on the registered sex offenders list. What happens if an 17 year old breaks the law and hurts a very young child. Surely that means they are at risk of hurting again and should be on the sex offenders list to protect other children?
    There are far too many loop holes in our system for everyone!

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