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Sending nudes and sexting

Young people are often better at managing relationships and protecting themselves online if you give them support and guidance.

It’s important to talk with them about sending nudes and sexting, to help them stay safe.

This page is for parents and carers. 

It covers:

What is 'sending nudes', 'sexting' and 'image-based abuse'?

When young people talk about ‘sending nudes’, it usually means sharing intimate photos or videos of themselves with someone else using an online message or chat function, or a phone text service. ‘Sexting’ means sending a sexual message or text, with or without a photo or video. Sending nudes and sexting are becoming common among young people and adults.
 
When someone shares (or threatens to share) the intimate image or video without the consent of the person shown in it this is ‘image-based abuse’. The content can be shared with others via text or online. This can be traumatic for the person shown, so it’s important that young people feel comfortable about reaching out for support so they can get the images taken down and find any other help they need.

How to talk with your child about sending nudes

Research shows that 45% of young people aged 14 to 17 have seen sexual images online. But banning your child from using the internet is not practical – these days it’s important for healthy social interaction. Instead, you can help prepare your child by having open conversations about their online experiences from an early age, before they’re teenagers. That way, they’re more likely to come to you for advice if they see anything that makes them uncomfortable or upset.

It’s also a good idea to talk about consent from an early age. We know that although its uncommon, children as young as 9 have shared nude images online – this may be due to not understanding the risks or being pressured by an older child or adult.

Children are more likely to make safe choices when adults have early protective conversations. You can start without mentioning sex or the topic of sending nudes. For example, ask your child for permission to take their photo or to post a photo of them on your social media. Then as they develop, you can talk with them about consent in various online situations.

If your child is already a teenager, talking about consent first is still a good way to start a conversation about sending nudes. 

Here are some suggestions for how to have the discussion about sending nudes – you can choose what you think is right for your child and family.

Match your approach to your child’s level of maturity, age, and the type of relationship you share with them. You might take the opportunity for a chat while you’re doing something together, like a long walk or a car trip. Sitting side by side, rather than looking at each other, can help make it less awkward!

Open the conversation with a real-life story from the media or your child’s school or community (or you could use a story from eSafety's resources). Ask questions like ‘Do you think it was right for them to share that photo after they broke up?’ or ‘Do you think it was right for them to post that video online of their friend having sex?’ Follow up by asking ‘Why?’, ‘Why not?’ or ‘Tell me more’ to help you understand more about what they’re thinking.

Explore what their friends think about sharing nudes. Ask your child what they think might happen if one of their friend’s nudes went viral and how they would get help.

Talk about mutual respect and trust. Explore why these behaviours are important to maintain healthy and respectful relationships. Explain that if someone is pressuring them to send an intimate image, that can be a sign that something isn’t right in the relationship. It doesn’t matter if the person is a friend, crush or someone they just met online.

Let them know that it’s OK to say ‘no’ when someone asks for an intimate image or video or to get sexual online, even if it’s someone they think they can trust. Respecting their bodies and personal values is important.

Help them understand that it’s important to get consent before sharing any type of image or video of someone else. Let your child know that sharing an intimate image or video of someone without their consent is a breach of trust and against the law.

Tell them they can always talk with you, no matter how worried or embarrassed they feel. Let them know that you will help them work things out if they feel pressured to share an intimate image or video of themselves or if they have shared an intimate image or video of someone else. 

Let them know about eSafety’s advice for Young People. You could even start the chat by showing your child these pages:

More tips

Our advice on hard-to-have conversations has more practical tips on where to start.

You can also read information about reducing the risks of sending nudes on the Cyberbullying Research Center website.
 

How image-based abuse happens, including 'revenge porn', 'sextortion' and sexual grooming

Sharing an intimate image or video of a person without their consent is image-based abuse. It’s never OK. If it happens to your child, it’s important they understand that it’s not their fault, even if they shared a nude with the other person in the first place or agreed to get sexual with them in a live chat.

Image-based abuse is sometimes known as ‘revenge porn’ because some people do it to hurt a person who’s ended a relationship with them, or threaten to do it unless they agree to talk. But there are other reasons too – for example, to upset or bully the person, or get them into trouble.

The image or video is often a selfie, or a screenshot or recording of a live video chat. But it can also be a meme, a fake or deepfake edited to look like the person, or even an image of someone else that’s been tagged with their name.

Image-based abuse can also happen when:

  • a scammer hooks or ‘catfishes’ a person into a fake friendship or relationship, then tricks them into sending nudes or getting sexual online and threatens to share the images or videos to blackmail them for money (see sexual extortion, also known as ‘sextortion’)
  • a sexual predator (paedophile) ‘grooms’ a child or young person to trick them into sending nudes or getting sexual online, then threatens to share the images or videos unless the child or young person sends more nudes or gets sexual on camera again.

Children and young people can be sexually abused online through sharing sexual content, comments or conversations, or through live-streaming sexual or sexualised activity or conversations. ‘Grooming’ the child or young person means building trust so it’s easier to abuse them. People who sexually abuse children and young people are often someone they know, such as a friend or family member. You can find out more about child grooming and unwanted contact and child sexual abuse online.

 

What to do if you suspect a child is being sexually abused or exploited online

If you are in Australia and someone is in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000). Outside Australia, contact the emergency police line in your country.

You should report suspected child sexual abuse, including grooming, to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE). This helps keep all children safer.

Having an age-appropriate talk with your child about the types of image-based abuse can help them:

  • understand the risks
  • watch out for the signs 
  • know how to get help if it happens to them or someone they know.

How image-based abuse can affect your child

  • They may feel humiliation, guilt, shame, anger, violation and self-blame – leading to immediate and ongoing emotional distress, withdrawal from school and family life, and difficulty with establishing and maintaining trusting relationships. In severe cases, this can result in self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
  • They may be bullied, teased and harassed by others if the image or video is shared around their school community or friendship groups.
  • Their intimate image or video may remain online or continue to be shared more widely, adding to their trauma every time it’s seen again.
  • Damage to their reputation may impact their relationships, performance at school or work, ability to socialise and confidence about the future.

How to support your child through image-based abuse

If your child experiences image-based abuse or does it to someone else, it’s important to make sure they’re safe and not about to harm themselves. If they’re at risk of immediate harm, call Triple Zero (000) for help.

Here are some suggestions for further support:

  • Try talking to your doctor if you have concerns about the health and wellbeing of your child. You could ask them for a referral to a specialist adolescent psychologist.
  • Children and young people can access counselling services any day or time at Kids Helpline (for young people up to age 25) and headspace (for 12- to 25-year-olds). Free and confidential legal advice is available from Youth Law Australia (for young people under 25) and local community legal centres can also assist with advice and referrals. 
  • It can be difficult to support your child through this experience – you may need help too. You can contact Parentline for information and counselling. You can also find resources about dealing with sexual abuse on the Raising Children Network.

If it happens to your child

Stay calm and listen. Finding out that your child’s nude has been shared, or someone is threatening to share it, can be very upsetting – but try to stay calm. If you’re upset or angry, they may not listen to your advice (and it might stop them coming to you about other concerns in the future). Thank them for being brave enough to let you know.

Keep your focus on your child’s wellbeing. It’s important they’re supported by a trusted adult so they can get the help they need. 

Help them take action. It’s important to collect evidence and report image-based abuse, so the intimate image or video can be removed or the threats to share it can be stopped. You can do this on behalf of your child if they’re under 16, or help them fill out the online form if they’re older. Follow the steps for collecting evidence, reporting the abuse, preventing further contact and getting more help.

Check how they’re doing. Look out for signs your child may be depressed or anxious. These can include unusual changes in their:

  • mood
  • sleep patterns 
  • appetite
  • energy levels
  • willingness to socialise
  • attendance at school or work. 

It may also be a good idea to ask their school for support. This could include: 

  • looking out for any concerning behaviour directed towards your child, such as shaming or bullying
  • letting you know if the teachers or support staff notice signs of depression or anxiety, such as missing classes or falling asleep because they’re tired.

If you think your child is struggling to cope, help them speak with a doctor, psychologist or counselling or support service.

Find more suggestions about how to help someone deal with image-based abuse

If your child does it to someone else

Talk about the impact of sharing an image or video without consent. Try to understand what has happened and why, and explore the impact it might be having on the person whose image or video has been shared. Explain to your child that it’s never OK to share an intimate image or video of someone else, because it can harm their mental health and reputation – now and in the future.

Try to stop the image or video being shared. Talk to your child about steps they can take to prevent the spread of the image or video. Encourage them to:

  • delete all intimate images or videos of the person from their phone, hard drive and any other device, as well as from any backups or cloud storage
  • delete the image or video from the site, app, chat or message thread immediately, as well as any comments they or others have made about it
  • ask the people they have shared the intimate image or video with to delete it online and from their devices immediately, along with any comments they made about it, and to get anyone else they have on-shared it with to also delete the image or video and any comments
  • report the image or video to the site, app or service used to share or send it, and ask it to take down any copies that have spread – check The eSafety Guide for links to common platforms and services.

Contact your child’s school and ask them to help stop further distribution. (Be aware that schools have mandatory reporting requirements and depending on the circumstances, may be required to report the matter to relevant authorities or the police).

Help your child to repair harm. If the school or police are involved, be sure to follow their advice.

Encourage your child to do everything they can to repair the harm caused to the person in the image or video. 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. 

See also What to do if you shared someone’s intimate image or video

What to do if your child is sent an unwanted nude

Sending an unwanted nude makes the interaction sexual without the consent of the person who receives it, which is sexual harassment. 

People sometimes send nudes because they think it’s a turn on, they’re hoping to receive a nude in return or start a relationship, or they’re trying to trick someone into sending a nude back so they can blackmail them. 

  • If it was sent by an adult and you suspect they’re a sexual abuser or planning to blackmail your child, report it to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation.
  • If the sender is another young person who may not realise the contact is unwanted, encourage your child to set boundaries by asking them not to send any more nudes.
  • If the sender is someone they don’t know or don’t want more contact from, explore options with your child for reporting and blocking the sender using device or account settings – see how to do this in The eSafety Guide.
  • If the person keeps making unwanted contact, it may be a good idea to report it to your local police. If you do this, encourage your child to follow their advice. For example, it may be best not to close an online account unless the police advise them to, as it could destroy evidence.

Unless advised otherwise by the police, encourage your child to delete any nudes sent to them.

If your child thinks the nude has been shared without the consent of the person shown, that person may need support. It can be a shock to find out an intimate image or video of you has been shared, so let your child know it may be best for them to ask a trusted adult to tell the person, such as a family member or teacher. If your child knows who shared the photo, they could also tell the sender that it was not OK.

Videos

Audio

Welcome to eSafety’s presentation for parents and carers about online sexual harassment and image-based abuse.

Hi I’m Deb. I’m one of the team of people at eSafety who research and write online safety advice. 

I’m also a parent, so I know how important it is to feel you can support your kids if they’re having issues, online or offline.

Connecting online can be a great way to learn and socialise, to access services and just to have fun, but it comes with some risks.

At eSafety, we’re seeing an increase in the number of young people coming to us for help dealing with online sexual harassment, as well as image-based abuse, which is when an intimate image or video of someone is shared without their consent.

This kind of behaviour can be incredibly distressing, but there are steps young people can take to deal with it, so that’s what we’ll look at in this video.

First up, online sexual harassment is never OK, regardless of gender, sexual preference, sexual identity or cultural background. No one should have to put up with it and it should never be seen as the fault of the person targeted. 

Let your kids know that, so they’re not worried you’ll think they’re to blame if they ever need help. And make sure they know they can turn to you as their parent or carer, or to another relative or trusted adult like a teacher, or if it’s really serious, a member of our team here at eSafety. They don’t have to deal with sexual harassment on their own.

Unfortunately many teenagers, especially girls, think online sexual harassment is just part of life. 

Sexist comments are quite common, along with repeatedly being asked for nude photos or to get sexual over a webcam. Unwanted nudes can be dropped into their messages or there could be bullying or rumours online about them being gay.

It’s really hard to manage that sort of pressure, especially when you’re young. And it’s not just on social media; it can happen in online games, video calls and texts too. But there are things they can do about it.

The first step is to collect evidence like site URLs or account addresses, user profiles and the dates when posts, comments or messages appeared. It all helps build a case to stop the harassment.

The next step is to report it to the site or app where it happened. Do you think the young people in your life know how to do that? Possibly not.

So here’s a good tip: Get them to show you how they would report sexual harassment in their top 3 apps. If they’re not sure, use The eSafety Guide to help them work it out.

If the site or app doesn’t help and the young person is being seriously harassed, humiliated, intimidated or threatened online, eSafety’s cyberbullying team can step in to stop the behaviour and remove the abusive content.

The young person can report it to us themselves, or you can do it for them if they’re under 18.

And now some advice about image-based abuse. That’s when someone shares a nude or sexual image or video without the consent of the person pictured, or threatens to do it. That’s illegal. The person responsible might be someone they know, or they’ve had a relationship with. 

Young people sometimes share nudes or partial nudes, or even get sexual during a video call and record it. Then one of them or a friend might share that online thinking they’re being funny, or because they want to hurt the person shown. In some cases, an ordinary photo or video is altered to create a fake nude, which can be just as devastating when it goes public.

Would you know how to support your child if that happened to them? Remind yourself being abused is never their fault. You might not like the fact that they’ve shared intimate content, but they need to feel OK about coming to you, so the situation doesn’t get worse.

Help them collect evidence, like details of the site, user profile and date and time of contact, but never save nude or sexual photos of anyone under 18, it’s against the law. Then help them report the image based abuse to eSafety as quickly as possible, so we can help to get the content removed before it spreads.

Young people tell us they want practical help with that and getting information about counselling services like Kids Helpline. 

There are also child sexual exploitation cases, where kids are tricked or coerced into sharing nude or sexual images.

Fourteen-year-old Adella thought she was chatting online to a friend of a friend called Jesse, who was the same age as her. After some flirting, she sent a topless picture of herself, then he threatened to share it unless she sent him nude videos. Thankfully she had the courage to report what happened and it turned out Jesse was an older man in the United States.

So, talk to your kids about the warning signs like someone is getting too friendly too quickly, promising them gifts and asking them to keep secrets.

If you suspect a young person’s being groomed or abused by a sexual predator reassure them they’re safe and they’re not in trouble. Then report it to police via the ThinkUKnow website, or you can make an anonymous call to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

We all need to help change the culture when it comes to sexual harassment and sharing intimate images without consent. So make it clear to your kids that this type of behaviour is never funny or justifiable, not even if something hurtful has been done to them.

Talking about respect, sex, consent and abuse with young people can be challenging, but don’t let that stop you. eSafety’s resources for parents and carers will help you start the chat.

You can also subscribe to our newsletter, to keep up to date with our latest research and advice. And let your kids know we also have tailored resources especially for them at esafety.gov.au/youngpeople.

It’s also a good idea to talk with your kids about how to contact people and services who can support them, like Kids Helpline, HeadSpace, QLife and ReachOut and encourage them to think about other trusted adults like family members, friends or teachers who they could they turn to if they were going through a tough time. 

There’s support available for you too each state and territory has a dedicated Parentline service that offers advice and counselling. And if this topic brings up issues for you, you can also contact 1800 RESPECT. 

I hope you’ve found this video useful remember you don’t have to have all the answers, but every conversation you have with your kids about online issues helps keep them a little bit safer.

Online sexual harassment and image-based abuse

This video shows how to support young people dealing with issues like pressure to send nudes or online sexual harassment. It’s designed for parents and carers of young people aged 13 to 18 years old.
Audio

My name's Arianne. I'm 20 years old and I am studying musical theatre at uni.

I had a guy from primary school who had a bit of a crush on me.

He was messaging me through social media platforms and harassing me for nudes, trying to sext me, and I just stood my ground and was like, 'No, I don't want to do that.'

Images last online forever. Even if someone says they've been deleted, you never know; they could have already been passed on.

Once it's out there, it's out there.

Hi, my name is Jess. I'm 24 years old and I'm currently studying my second undergrad.

There's so many instances of images just continuously coming back to haunt you.

I have had people DM on social media asking for nudes but generally I just ignore them. 

I decline their message if it's someone who doesn't follow me, and if it's someone who does follow me, I would block them.

My name's Aaron. I'm 20 years old and I'm currently a student at university studying criminology and psychology. 

I'm always learning things about making sure that I'm maintaining my safety online, and I like to talk about that with my friends as well, even if it's just as simple as asking about their experiences.

It's definitely beyond important to be able to have those conversations with someone, to be able to feel safe and have the exact knowledge that anyone else would about sexting and sending nudes.

There's always gonna be online resources available for you to help out with understanding how to be safe and how to maintain yourself online. 

Learn more at eSafety.gov.au

Real stories about sharing nudes and sexting

This video shares a range of case studies from young people and the ways they stay safe online.

Advice is also available for young people and for adults experiencing image-based abuse.

Last updated: 06/02/2024