Teen ‘Sexting’ - the Legal Consequences

06 Sep 2018

‘Sexting’ between young people is very common, but if it comes to the attention of police, it can have devastating legal consequences.

The combination of modern technology and the age-old phenomenon of teenage hormones means that many young people send sexual content to each other through SMS or social media apps such as Snapchat. This content can range from ‘flirty’ or suggestive messages through to explicit images and videos. A 2014 study found that 10% of Australian teenagers, and 53% of young adults had sent ‘sexts’ (Klettke et al, 2014). The dangers that this can be used for bullying or ‘revenge porn’ seem to be fairly well-known by young people. Less known are the legal problems they can run into.

Most of the criminal offences relating to sexting are found in the Commonwealth Criminal Code. It is common for teenagers and young people to be charged with any combination of the below offences:

  • Using a Carriage Service for Sexual Activity with Person under 16 Years of Age (s 474.25A) – maximum penalty 15 years imprisonment.
  • Using a Carriage Service to Procure Persons under 16 Years of Age (s 474.26) – maximum penalty 15 years imprisonment.
  • Using a Carriage Service to Groom Persons under 16 years of Age (s 474.27) – maximum penalty 12 years imprisonment.
  • Using a Carriage Service to Transmit Indecent Communication to Person under 16 Years of Age (s 474.27A) – maximum penalty 7 years imprisonment.

It is important to note that it is not a defence to any of these charges that the defendant was in a relationship with the victim, that the victim consented to the messages being sent, or that there was no possibility of any sexual activity actually taking place.  So even sexting with someone you’re in a relationship with can be a criminal offence.

In cases where explicit pictures or videos are sent (yes, even through Snapchat), then teenagers and young people can also be charged with child pornography offences which also carry lengthy terms of imprisonment. Child pornography relates to material of anyone aged under 18 years. This can lead to perverse outcomes whereby teenagers aged between 16 and 18 are legally permitted to have sexual intercourse, but if they send pictures to each other they are engaging in child pornography offences.

If you’re convicted of any of these offences, not only do you have to worry about imprisonment, but you’ll also be placed on the Child Offenders Register, which will have long-lasting and devastating impacts on your employment and life.

In addition, we should also consider the impact sexting has on victims – even where consensual. Many young people feel pressured to send ‘sexts’ – especially young women (Klettke et al, 2014). Young people who send and receive sexts are also more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour such as unprotected sex, or drug and alcohol abuse (Klettke et al, 2014).

If you’re wondering whether police actually charge young people with these offences, the answer is yes, they do.  Teenagers and young people in our region can be, and are charged with these offences. Given how serious these offences are, it is crucial that you seek immediate legal advice if you are charged or questioned in relation to these offences.

Produced by Dominic Wilcox.

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