Sexting is the sending of provocative or sexual photos, message or videos. They are generally sent using a mobile phone but can also include posting this type of material online.

While sharing suggestive images or text messages may seem like innocent flirting or be considered funny for young people, sexting can have serious social and legal consequences.

It's important to remember that sexting can be a very serious concern. Creating and/or distributing sexual images with minors may constitute the production and/or distribution of child sexual abuse material. This can be the case even if the people in the image are willing participants. Note that outcomes vary by state and territory and are addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Why do children sext?

Researcher Danah Boyd noted that ‘teens share images for all kinds of reasons... to express developing sexuality, to impress or be liked and to keep up with what they think is the norm. Most images are shared within relationships and most teens don’t expect images to be shared with others, with the exception of a few who hope they will gain fame’.

How can I support my child online?

It’s important to discuss the consequences of sexting with your children. If their image has been viewed by others, they may be publicly bullied and have sexually inappropriate comments made about them by friends and strangers, including adults.

You can:

  • talk to your children about the potential social, academic, employment and legal implications of posting inappropriate material of themselves or others online
  • encourage them to think twice before they post sexualised photos and consider the fact that others might view what they post
  • remind them to delete any sexual content they receive from others and avoid forwarding this type of content
  • remind them to consider the feelings of others when taking photos and distributing any content by mobile phone or online
  • seek professional support if you are worried that your child is vulnerable
  • if you are concerned that a sexting incident may be a criminal matter, contact your local police.

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How can I minimise the spread of images?

Unfortunately, once shared online, many images end up on sites that are used for adult gratification. Act fast to help prevent this. If schoolmates are involved, the school may be able to help.

You can:

  • help your child to identify where the images might be and send take-down requests to all sites
  • send messages to all children who may have received an image and ask them to delete it immediately
  • help to block people who make offensive comments about your child and report them to the police if necessary.

The law

While it can be a crime to take and share sexual images of people under 18, the police don’t usually prosecute if there is no harm to those involved. Issues do arise if they have deliberately shared a photo or video of someone without consent, especially if they meant to embarrass or humiliate the subject.

If the police do become involved they will want to know how the image/video was made and where it might have been sent/posted. They will want to know who was involved and whether there was consent from all involved.

Help your child by putting together a record of what happened and where images and videos might be.

Sexting videos for parents

Parents' guide to online safety

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