Sexting is a new word created in the media by combining the word sex with texting. It is a slang term used to describe sending (or forwarding) sexual images or video by mobile phone from one person to another. These can be sent voluntarily or without the person’s knowledge or permission. The term can also refer to sexually charged text messages.
Some sites state that up to 1 in 6 young people have received a sexually explicit (nude or semi-nude) photograph on their phone. In some senses this practice is an outflow of the highly sexualised media culture that young people are exposed to these days. Quite often the pictures and videos are taken voluntarily and sent to the person’s boyfriend or girlfriend. Everything is fine – until the relationship comes to an end. Then the jilted partner is able to forward the material to a few friends, they forward it to a further few and the viral effect begins.
On one occasion I was attending a debutante ball, when a certain young lady was being ‘presented’ to the audience a young man leant across to me and said ‘that’s the girl in the video’. He was from a different school to the girl, from a different area of the city – yet he had seen the video. It was taken with the girl’s knowledge and involved sexual activity with her then boyfriend. Unfortunately the relationship had ended very badly and as a result hundreds (maybe more) young men had seen it and recognised her. Not good.
In 2011 there was much publicity about an incident at the Australian defence Force Academy in Canberra. Two students were having sex in a room and (unknown to the girl) the whole thing was being video transferred, live, to another room where a number of other students were watching. Sexting, as you can see, can use varying technologies.
With the increased popularity of smart phones it is very easy to take a photograph and text it to another person but not everyone realises that the carrier needs to store a copy for the image to be delivered to the right person. Even if the receiver deletes it from their phone it is still possible for the relevant authorities to access the material. The images become permanent – especially if forwarded on to people you aren’t aware of. In addition to the legality (see below) they can cause irreparable damage to their reputation and pose a serious risk to future employment.
Whilst the law may vary from state to state the consequences are very serious. It can result in child pornography charges if the material shows a person less than 18 years of age – producing, distributing or possession. Even though some argue the law is struggling to keep up with new technology it can result in a person being placed on the sex offenders register which will hinder potential employment opportunities, in effect branding them for years.
The Age newspaper reported:
In one case, an 18-year-old from country Victoria was sent by a female friend six unsolicited text message images of girls aged 15 to 18, topless or in underwear. When downloading other images and videos from his phone to his computer, the sexts were also transferred.
Police investigating an unrelated matter confiscated his computer, found the images and charged him with one count of possessing and one count of making child pornography.
On legal advice, he pleaded guilty and received a good behaviour bond without conviction. The magistrate refused a police application to put the youth on the sex offender register, saying it was not a suitable case. But police realised the magistrate did not have the power to override the mandatory listing and he was registered for eight years.
Now 21, he still has seven years to go, during which time he will be prevented from volunteering or working with children.
It is our responsibility to educate our young people to the morality of their actions, the damage and pain it can cause to others and the legal hot water they put themselves into. It isn’t harmless fun it is a criminal and hurtful practice.
It is wise to discuss with your child how to recognise when people give unwanted attention online as this can lead to greater difficulties down the track – Cyberbullying, harassment or full stalking. Some of the signs might be when they ask for lots of information and photographs. Even when a new contact becomes very friendly in a short space of time, this should raise an alarm. Of course if they start to send money or gifts then you need to be made aware immediately. Ask your son/daughter to let you know if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable in any way.