In Sexting

The Legal and Social Repercussions of Sexting in Australia


What Is Sexting?

Sexting is when an individual creates, sends, posts, or shares sexually explicit messages or images through the use of electronic devices, such as the Internet and mobile phones. However, sexting is not necessarily visual; it can be performed verbally through sexual banter or word play.

Sexting messages are particularly popular among the youth. Many of them know how to sext, and they seem to view it as just another aspect of the complicated dating game. However, sexting is much more serious than that. It can (and often does) have serious repercussions.

Over the years, the increasing frequency of sexts has caught the attention of those in authority, including parents, teachers, and even legal agents. Certain measures have been taken in order to prohibit this behaviour, as well as to educate the public about the grave consequences that sexting can inflict on society as a whole.

Sexting on the Rise

Sexting is a worldwide phenomenon. In Australia, sexting among minors has grown significantly, and the country’s current sexting statistics could very well cause a dramatic influx if immediate action is not taken to prevent involvement in this damaging activity.

For example, it is reported that over 20% of teenagers have taken part in some kind of dirty sexting. In Australia alone, it was found that 40% of 588 girls surveyed by a 2010 poll are familiar with sexting and have participated in it. In 2011, Queensland was reported to have the highest number of reported sexting offences at 459. Furthermore, sexting offences in the Western Australia region have almost tripled between 2009 and 2011.

Is Sexting Legal?

Sexting in Australia is generally considered to be illegal. In Victoria, for an instance, an individual cannot send or threaten to send sexts of another person in a malicious manner. This behaviour can result in up to two years of jail time. These penalties apply to the distribution of images of anyone under 18, as well as to the distribution of images of adults without their consent.

However, there are potential loopholes in these legal procedures. For example, sending sexts of oneself appears to be legal. The current laws concerning child pornography charges for minors have been amended, and it is no longer illegal for someone under the age of 18 to distribute a sext of someone who is less than two years younger than them—that is, as long as that person has the other person’s consent.

In short, sexting in Australia is frowned upon and in some places somewhat prohibited. Yet if the entire process is done with the consent of the people participating, the law seems to offer little to no objections.

Is Sexting Ever Okay?

One study asked participants when they considered sexting to be acceptable. The majority of them agreed that sexting was permissible if it was consensual and conducted between individuals who trusted one other.

This conclusion may initially seem reasonable, but it is actually quite inadequate on multiple levels. For one thing, it does not take into account the possibility of sexting images falling into the hands of an unscrupulous third party, who could then spread the images as a “joke” or show it to other people. This would go above and beyond a harmless schoolyard prank; it would be socially ruinous and emotionally traumatising.

There is also another point to consider. Even if the sexting is consensual at the time, there is no telling what might happen in the event of a bad breakup. When people are hurt and angry, they do rash things; what is to stop the offended individual from posting photos online purely for the sake of revenge? Even if they are penalised and the images are removed, the fact remains that the photos are officially out on the Internet. Once something is circulated throughout social media, it is hard to eliminate.

The Specific Consequences of Sexting

Does sexting have any significant consequences? If so, is it anything particularly serious? Aren’t those who denounce the practice as “immoral” and “socially disruptive” merely exaggerating?

Not necessarily. Sexting has been tragically trivialized, but that does not make it any less serious. It is a dangerous seed that can sprout social persecution, legal complications, and moral decay.


A brief moment of spontaneous sexting can give rise to a lifetime of social consequences. Many people who participate in sexting fail to consider the long-term repercussions, such as:

  • Damage to a person’s reputation.
  • Damage to a person’s self-esteem.
  • Sexually explicit photographs being spread to unintended audiences.
  • Becoming clinically depressed and/or humiliated.
  • Losing valuable friendships or relationships with family.

One example serves to demonstrate the grave extent of sexting ramifications: a teenage girl in the U.S. was persecuted after the photos she sent to her boyfriend were sent to hundreds of people. This resulted in the girl receiving harassing messages online and in person, which consequently led to her tragic suicide.


Legally, sexting can be treated as a form of child pornography. A brief overview of the penalties of child pornography put this into perspective. The maximum jail sentence for child pornography is up to 15 years, and can additionally place the culprit on the sex offender register.

Why are these penalties so serious? It is simply due to the fact that when these laws were passed, they pertained strictly to child pornography. No one realised that they might one day be used against young people who took pictures of themselves or of others their own age.

For this reason, sexting is not necessarily punished as severely as child pornography. In some cases, the police might choose not enforce child pornography laws, and may instead decide to do one of the following:

  • Charge the offender with a lesser crime (such as posting an indecent picture, which has a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison).
  • Send the offender to youth justice conferencing.
  • Give the offender a warning.
  • Let the parents or school decide the final punishment.


There is one more factor to consider, and it is one that is easily overlooked by the majority of people who participate in sexting. Australia has long professed a strong ethical code. It consistently strives to emphasise respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, equality for men and women, and a “spirit…that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good.” These are worthwhile aspirations, and it is useful to note that the current trend of sexting disintegrates these ethics in three essential ways:

  1. Sexting fails to respect the dignity of the individual, objectifying relationships rather than edifying or improving them. It perpetuates the erroneous view that relationships are all about sexuality, and that in order to “keep” a boyfriend or girlfriend, one must participate in it. As such, it encourages youth that sexting is “no big deal,” downplaying the seriousness of the situation as well its potentially tragic consequences.
  2. Sexting does not respect the equality of men and women. For instance, one study evaluated the responses of men sexting versus women sexting. Most of the subjects tended to feel as if men in underwear photos would be considered “funny,” whereas women participating in similar photos would be seen as begging for attention. This is only half the problem, however; sexting does not just encourage women to display their bodies in the name of “sexiness.” It also persuades men to expose themselves beneath the guise of “humour.” Thus, sexting prompts both men and women to exploit themselves in the name of entertainment. It does not increase respect between partners; it only provides an opportunity for future humiliation.
  3. Sexting does not embrace respect, tolerance, fair play, or compassion, nor does it pursue the public good. It only circulates images that become subject to ridicule, encouraging people to view one another as targets rather than as human beings that warrant respect.

Handling Sext Messages

If a person is receiving undesired sexting messages, they can put a halt to it by following a few handy tips:

  • They can delete the pictures or videos immediately.
  • They should let the sender know that they do not want to receive any more of these pictures and videos.
  • They can remind the sender that sending unwanted sexting messages is not only immoral, but illegal.
  • They should eliminate the sexting material as soon as possible. A person should never allow sexting messages to linger on their mobile or computer, as forwarding these images onto other people (whether deliberately or accidentally) is a serious crime.

If all of the above measures have been taken and sexting continues to occur, there are further methods that can be utilised.

If Sexting Is Online

If a picture is placed on a social networking site such as Facebook, an individual can have it removed by reporting it to those in charge of the site. If the child is under 13 years of age, the parents can fill out a form to have the photo removed. It is also advisable to set privacy settings that will allow users to review photo tags before they appear on their profile or on the newsfeeds of their friends.

If Sexting Is Through a Mobile Device

If an individual is being harassed via mobile, they can:

  • Make a report to their mobile phone company by calling or visiting their website for details on how to prevent sexting behaviour.
  • Tell someone about it, such as a parent, friend, school counsellor or teacher (be aware that a teacher may feel that they have to report the incident to the police).
  • Contact the authorities if they feel unsafe or threatened.
  • The recipient should be aware of the fact that they may be charged if they took and sent the picture. However, the police usually have the discretion not to charge victims of sexting.

How Parents Should Approach Sexting

Australian authorities have continually emphasised that there is no such thing as “safe sexting.” Their concern has led them to compile a list of sexting tips, which are designed to assist parents in discussing the dangers of sexting with their children:

  • Warn children about the lasting consequences of sexting.
  • Remind them to think before they act.
  • Make sure they know that sending or possessing child pornography is highly illegal.
  • Warn them about sexual predators and how such people can use sexting to exploit minors.
  • Parents should learn about how to use and monitor their children’s mobile phones.
  • Parents should regularly check photos on their children’s Facebook and MySpace.

Where to Go From Here

Sexting is not the problem of a single country; it is a harmful practice that has seeped into every corner of the world. Where there is technology, there is the threat of sexting. An unfortunate number of people have probably participated in it, and that is why it is crucial for parents to become aware of its frequency and to take steps to ensure its prevention.

They should often speak with their children about the repercussions of sexting. Parents would also do well to emphasise how one moment of wanting to please a boyfriend or girlfriend could have life-altering consequences.

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