Sending nudes and sexting

A guide for parents and carers

It is important to talk with your children about the possible consequences of sending or sharing intimate or sexually explicit messages, images, photos or videos. And there are ways you can help if things go wrong.

The term ‘sexting’ is not often used by young people or in popular culture. Young people are more likely to refer to other terms like ‘sending nudes' or ‘dick pics’.

This page is for parents and carers. It covers:

Targeted advice is also available for anyone who may be experiencing image-based abuse.

 

How common is it?

In a 2017 eSafety survey, 9 out of 10 young people aged 14 to 17 thought that sexting happened among their peers — as a kind of courtship behaviour.

However, it may not be quite as common as they think.

  • 1 in 3 said they had actually experienced sexting in some way — whether sending, receiving, asking, being asked, sharing or showing nude or nearly nude pictures.
  • 5% said they had sent an intimate image, and 19% of these said they did it because they trusted the person they sent it to.
  • 15% reported being asked for an image, with 52% of requests coming from someone they did not know.
  • 73% said they did not send an image after being asked (82% of 14 year olds compared to 66% of 17 year olds).

Find out more from eSafety research: Young people and sexting—attitudes and behaviours: research findings from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. December 2017.

 

What are the risks?

Sharing intimate images may seem like a bit of fun or innocent flirting for young people, particularly those in a relationship. But things can go wrong and it is important your child understands this.

 

The child loses control of the image

  • Once an image is shared, it can be copied and saved by others, shared with people the sender does not know and posted on social media and public websites.
  • Images can be extremely difficult to remove and the consequences can follow a young person into adulthood.
 

Things can go wrong even in a trusted relationship or friendship

  • A friend or partner may, on impulse and without thinking, share an image more broadly than the sender intended.
  • Sometimes when a relationship breaks down there may be an intent to humiliate an ex-partner or friend.

This is image-based abuse.

 

Images may not always be sent willingly

  • Young people may be forced or pressured into sending explicit images or videos.
  • This may be a particular risk when communicating on a dating site or with strangers whose real motives might not be known or understood.
  • Even young people who know each other may experience coercion or pressure to send a nude.
  • Sometimes sexting can lead to ‘sextortion’ — blackmail with a sexual component — when someone threatens to share an intimate image unless the person in the image pays money or gives into their demands.
  • You can find out more about sextortion in the image-based abuse section of the site. See also our guide to unwanted contact and grooming.
 

The consequences can be serious

Young people may be forced or pressured into sending explicit images or videos.

For young people, sharing naked or sexually explicit images might result in:

  • humiliation, guilt, shame, anger and self-blame — which can lead to ongoing emotional distress, withdrawal from school and family life and in severe cases, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
  • bullying, teasing and harassment from peers — they may experience bullying, including cyberbullying, if photos are shared around their school community or friendship group.
  • damage to their reputation — it may impact on their reputation and performance at school, as well as employment opportunities in the future.
  • criminal charges and penalties — it can be a crime when it involves asking for, accessing, creating, possessing and/or sharing sexualised images of people under 18.
 

Sexting and the law

There are Commonwealth and state and territory laws against asking for, accessing, possessing, creating or sharing sexualised images of children and young people under 18. (In some states, these laws only apply to images of children and young people under 16 or 17, but police in every state also have the option of using the Commonwealth laws, which apply to images of young people up to 18).

This means a young person who asks for, accesses, possesses, creates or shares sexualised images of someone under 18 may be at risk of criminal charges — even if both parties consented. Being found guilty of these offences can result in a criminal record and registration as a sex offender in some circumstances. This would prohibit them from working or volunteering in places involving children and may require them to regularly report to police and have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement.

Some states have added defences or exceptions to these laws for consensual sexting between young people of similar ages.

Given the laws in this area are complex, it is important to be aware of the law and the legal services that are available to advise and support young people who have been involved in sexting.

For more information about relevant laws in Australia, visit Youth Law Australia.

 
 

How can I minimise the risks to my child?

 

Talk early, talk often

  • Match your approach to your child’s level of maturity, age and the type of relationship you share with them. Maybe take the opportunity for a chat while you are doing something together, like a long walk or a car trip.
  • You could start from a real life story in the media or from their school or community, asking questions like: Do you think it was right for her to share that photo after they broke up? Do you think it was right for him to post that video online of his friend having sex with a girl?
  • Explore what their friends think about sharing nudes. Ask what they think might happen if one of their friend’s nudes went viral, and how it might make their friend feel.
  • Let them know that they can always approach you if they feel pressured to share an image of themselves or if they have shared an image of someone else. Let them know that you will support them.
  • Check out our advice on having hard-to-have conversations with your child.
 

Promote self-confidence and that it is OK to say ‘no'

  • Explain that they do not have to send intimate images just because others do.
  • Let them know that it is OK to say ‘no’ when someone asks for an intimate photo, even if it is their boyfriend or girlfriend or someone they trust. Respecting their bodies and personal values is important.
  • Talk about ways your child can handle a request for a nude photo. They could respond in funny ways like sending a picture of some noodles or an animal. Watch the videos Send noods not nudes or Don’t get sextorted, send a naked mole rat.
  • If the unwanted requests continue, encourage your child to reply with a stern ‘no’. But if things get aggressive, your child should consider blocking the person and seek support from a trusted adult. It is also a good idea to save screenshots of any abusive or threatening message in case you want to report them later on.
 

Teach them about consent, personal boundaries and respect for self and others

  • Help them understand the impact of sharing images of others and that they are breaking someone’s trust when they do this without their consent.
  • Talk about what healthy and respectful relationships look like. Mutual respect, trust and consent are important.
  • Pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend to share an intimate image is not an example of a respectful relationship.
 

Talk about the risks — what can go wrong, and the legal issues

  • Remind them that once an image is shared, it is almost impossible to get it back or control how it is shared.
  • Point out that images which include identifiable features, such as a person’s face, hair, tattoos, distinctive clothing or jewellery, can carry a higher risk. It may also be possible to identify someone by matching the background of the image to the background of their public profile pic.
  • Help them understand that viewing or sending intimate images can carry the risk of committing a crime, even if the image has been willingly shared.
 
 

What can I do when things go wrong?

Whatever the issue or the age of your child

 

Stay calm and open

  • Try to approach the situation calmly. If you are upset or angry, your child may feel like they cannot come to you about other concerns in the future.
  • Thank them for being brave enough to let you know.
  • While being supportive, help them understand the consequences of their actions. Reassure them that they are not alone and you will work through this together.
 

Listen, and act fast

  • Gather as many details as you can and act fast to minimise the risk of harm — see advice below on steps you can take depending on the situation.
 

Seek help if you are concerned about your child

  • Consider talking to your GP if you have other concerns about the health and wellbeing of your child and seek a referral to an adolescent psychologist.
  • Young people can access counselling services from Kids Helpline (for 5 to 25 year olds) and eheadspace (for 12 to 25 year olds). Free and confidential legal advice is available from Youth Law Australia (for young people under 25 years) and local community legal centres can also assist with advice and referrals.

Steps to take depending on the situation

There are practical steps you can take to support your child if they have:

If the police get involved, you can seek advice about the relevant laws and your child’s rights from a lawyer or legal service. Legal issues tend to arise if the images involve someone under 18 or if a photo or video of someone has been deliberately shared without their consent.

 

If your child has sent an intimate image of themselves

 

Explain why it is a problem

  • Gently remind your child that once an image is shared, it can be very difficult to control what happens to it.
  • Help them understand that viewing or sending an intimate image carries the risk of committing a crime, even if they have willingly shared the image.
 

Try to limit sharing

  • Ensure your child does not share the image with anyone else — delete the photo.
  • Help your child ask the person who received the image to delete it and find out if it has been shared with anyone else. If not, ask them not to do so — explain that this is a serious matter and that police might be involved. If it has, see try to get it removed below.
  • If you are considering contacting the other child’s parents, be aware that this may escalate the problem — barriers can go up and the blame game can start.
  • If other students of your child’s school are involved, notify the school. With care and sensitivity, the school may be able to help minimise further distribution of the material by initiating contact with families and/or other schools of the children involved. (Be aware that some schools have mandatory reporting requirements and, depending on the circumstances, may be required to report the matter to relevant authorities.)
 

Try to get the image removed

  • If the material has been posted online, report it to eSafety and we can help to get the image removed. If you prefer to report to the site it was posted on yourself — a list of services and direct reporting links can be found in the eSafety Guide.
 

Report any serious concerns

  • If you believe the request for intimate images was from an adult, contact your local police immediately as this may be a case of grooming.
  • If the online material includes serious bullying or harassing content, you can make a cyberbullying report to eSafety.
  • If you are concerned that the image has been shared, or someone is threatening to share it, you can report it to eSafety using our image-based abuse report form.
 

If your child has received an intimate image of someone

 

Report the situation if necessary

  • If the material was sent by an adult, contact your local police.
  • If the image sharing is unwanted and persistent (for example, if you or your child have asked them to stop sending images and they continue), you may consider blocking and reporting to the relevant service provider, or if necessary, reporting their behaviour to the school or police.
  • If you have made a report to police, please follow their advice. Do not close accounts or report them to the site if the matter is under police investigation (unless the police advise otherwise) as this may hamper the ability to retrieve evidence. It may be possible to deactivate your child’s account instead.
 

Unless advised otherwise by the police, delete the image

 

Contact the sender if possible

  • If the sender is another young person of a similar age who may not realise that the contact is unwanted, help your child set boundaries with that person and let them know that they do not want to receive any further material of this type.
  • If they feel able, get them to ask the sender to delete the image.
  • If you have asked for the behaviour to cease and it continues you may want to advise your child’s school (be aware that some schools have mandatory reporting requirements and depending on the circumstances, may be required to report the matter to relevant authorities).
  • Explore options with your child to block the sender on their device, messaging apps and social media or through their mobile phone provider.
 

If your child has shared an intimate image of someone else

 

Try to get the full story

  • Try to understand what has happened, how and why, including the impact it might be having on the child whose image has been shared.
  • If the school or police are involved be sure to follow their advice.
 

Explain why it is a problem

  • Remind your child that once an image is shared, it is almost impossible to get it back or control how it is further shared.
  • Ensure they understand the potential consequences of their behaviour, for the person affected as well as themselves.
  • Explain that it can be a crime to ask for, access, create, possess and/or share sexualised images of people under 18.
  • You could also direct them to advice for people who have shared intimate-images of someone else and wish to make amends.
 

Try to stop the image being shared

  • Ensure your child does not share the image further — delete the photo.
  • Encourage your child to ask anyone involved to delete the material from their devices and anywhere else they may have shared it.
  • If the material has been uploaded onto a website, help your child contact the website to have it removed.
  • Contact your child’s school for help in minimising further distribution (be aware that some schools have mandatory reporting requirements and depending on the circumstances, may be required to report the matter to relevant authorities).
 

Help your child to repair harm

  • Encourage your child to do everything they can to repair any harm to the person in the image.
  • If appropriate, this could include encouraging your child to meet with the affected person, listen to and accept what they have to say, and offer them a genuine apology. You and the family members of the affected person may want to offer support by being there with them when they meet or talk.
 

Get help and support

Find a counselling and support service that is right for you or your child.

Get help now.

 

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