Keeping children safe

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Sharing sexual images

Sharing sexual images, message and videos are ways in which young (and older) people explore being sexual with another person.

This is often referred to as ‘sexting’ but many young people don’t use this term (or consider things like sharing a porn clip in their group chat with friends as ‘sexting’). 

In most cases, the pictures stay private because the couple are respectful of one another’s privacy.

Things go wrong when people (often girls) are pressured into sending a ‘sexy selfie’ or ‘nude’.

In those circumstances the image is more likely to be shared without consent, presumably because the ‘receiver’ has already shown they are less respectful of the sender’s boundaries.

Some WA stats

A recent survey of Year 10 to Year 12 Western Australian students10 found that in the previous 2 months:

sent a sexy written text
received a sexy written text
sent a nude/nearly nude pic of self
received a nude/nearly nude pic
received a pic from boyfriend/girlfriend
received pic from friend

Sexting and the law

Sexting is a crime if it involves a person under the age of 18 (or someone who appears to be under the age of 18). It is also a crime when it involves harassing people of any age. 

When sexting involves someone under 18, it can be considered creating, distributing or possessing child abuse material (sometimes referred to as 'child pornography'). A picture is considered to be child pornography if it is offensive to the average person.26

Existing laws are not designed to ‘catch out’ young people sharing consensual sexts with their partners; they are designed to protect children from exploitation.

However, even if a young person under the age of 18 sends their own picture to their partner or someone else who says it’s OK, they can still be charged under current Australian Commonwealth laws. 

Consent applies to ‘sexting’ too.

If you consent to sexting with someone, it doesn’t mean you consent to that image being shared with anyone else. 

WA’s intimate image laws came into effect in 2019.

These laws make it an offence to distribute (or threaten to distribute) an intimate image of a person without their consent.

Courts can also issue a ‘take down’ order to remove images online. 

For more information, Youth Law Australia uses straightforward language and scenarios to explain the laws in each state. It also offers free, confidential legal information and help for people under 25. 

What you can do to help

  • Teach your kids about consent and image sharing right from the start.
  • Got a photo of their first day at school?

Ask their permission before you post it online.

Have a conversation about it, and how, you can share their picture with others. 

  • Talk with your kids about when it is OK to share someone’s picture – and when it is not. 
  • If your child is LGBTI (and they haven’t come out to everyone), they may be at risk from someone outing them by sharing their image or information online.

Let your child know that they will always have your support. 

  • Remind them of the basics of respectful relationships.

Pressure from a partner to share an intimate image, or pressuring someone to send an image, is not respectful. 

  • Make sure you include both sons and daughters in discussions about respecting other people’s boundaries. 
  • Make sure they understand that it is illegal in Australia to send a nude photo or sexts (of themselves or of someone else) if they are under the age of 18. 
  • Let your teenager know that they can always come to you if they are worried about images they have sent.
  • Talk about who else they could go to instead of you, such as a school counsellor or Kids Helpline
  • Show your teenager how to get online images removed by reporting them on

Considerations for young people before sexting

You may like to share this list of considerations with your child.

Things for me to consider before sextingDo I really want to do this?

 Does the person receiving the sext really want it?

 Do I trust the receiver/s?

Is it legal? (e.g. sexting/nudes)

Do I have consent to share this image with anyone else?

Am I being repeatedly asked and pressured to send pics?

Or am I putting pressure on someone and making them feel uncomfortable to send a pic?

Am I doing it to ‘belong'?

Or is it something I personally want to do?

Why am I sending this?

Am I hoping that if I send the pic that I’ll be liked?

What might happen if I send and image and it gets shared with others? How will I feel? What would I do?

Am I identifiable in this picture? (Can you see my face? Tattoos? Birthmarks? Background? Jewellery? Uniform?)

How will I feel about this decision tomorrow?