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Consent and privacy in the era of sexting

by | May 11, 2020 | The Agenda

Social distancing measures to stop the spread of coronavirus have us more reliant than ever on online communication to stay connected to our loved ones.

While the harshest quarantine restrictions now starting to be relaxed, there has been a dramatic shift in dating ‘activities’ in recent weeks. Unable to interact in person with intimate partners, young people are getting more creative – which includes a tidal wave of sexting.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the phrase, sexting refers to sending text messages, photos or videos (informally known as ‘sending nudes’) of a sexual nature to another person via mobile phone, laptop or any other digital device.

It is safe when it is consensual and privacy is respected.

With sexting gaining in popularity during the pandemic, being well informed about safe sexting is all the more important. It appears, however, many Australian young people might not be neither well-informed or safe.

With sexting gaining in popularity during the pandemic, being well informed about safe sexting is all the more important. It appears, however, many Australian young people might not be either well-informed or safe.

A Young Women’s Advisory Group survey in 2019 Let’s Talk: Young Wom*n’s Views on Sex Education looked at attitudes towards sexuality and respectful relationships in women aged between 16 and 21. It revealed how commonplace sexting is for this age group.

An astonishing 70% of young people said they had sent a sexually explicit message and 50% said they had sent a nude photo or video of themselves.

120520 Graph1

From the same survey, almost one in four young people reported they didn’t learn about safe sexting as part of their sex education curricula, and only 38% said they felt confident in their understanding of sex and social media after completing their sex education. A tiny proportion, just over 1%, said they felt ‘very confident’.  

120520 Graph2

There are severe legal penalties for those who breach the law and share private content without consent. Commonly known as ‘revenge porn laws’, some statistics suggest one in five Australians has experienced non-consensual sexting related abuse. This included the non-consensual creation, distribution and threat of distribution of digital sexual content.

Education around consent could serve as a safeguard to risky online sexual behaviour, including child pornography. A 2017 report by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, 49% of people charged with child exploitation were under 17 years of age.

Given the current situation with COVID-19 and the difficulties young people are having accessing their education, sexting education is unlikely to be a top curriculum priority.

Given the current situation with COVID-19 and the difficulties young people are having accessing their education, sexting education is unlikely to be a top curriculum priority.

So what are the laws when it comes to sexting? Tasmania is the only State to have not introduced laws to make revenge porn a criminal offence. But there are Commonwealth and state laws against the possession, dissemination and creation of sexually explicit material involving children and young people under 18. However, some state laws only apply to the sexual content of individuals who are under 16 or 17 years old.

People can be listed on the sex offender registry they send or exchange sexual material of themselves with another person who is under the age of 18, regardless of whether both parties consented. But they can’t be placed on the register if they have only committed one offence. However, if sexually explicit material is distributed on more than one day and is of more than one person, they can be placed on the sex offender registry. Some states, like Victoria, introduced defences and exceptions for under 18 or 19 year olds who are found in possession of sexual content from an under 18 year old that was consensually sent.

Sexting can also be illegal if someone is threatening or harassing another person to send sexual content or sending sexual content of themselves without first seeking your consent.

120520 Graph3The way to stay safe and protect privacy issues rests almost wholly on clear consent. If someone wants to share photos or send sexual messages, then a good indication that they care about your comfort and safety is if they ask for permission first and check in with how you’re feeling.

Likewise, always ask before sending private content, have a discussion about respect and consider using apps that can protect your personal privacy. Some sexting apps, like Kaboom or Confide, include features such as deleting any content after a certain period of time, removing your name on the screen, or automatically shutting down if someone attempts to take a screenshot, and notify the sender when someone makes the attempt.

There are other practical ways of protecting yourself such as keeping your face out of any content.

If someone is making you feel uncomfortable by pressuring you into sending nudes, sending unsolicited sexual photos of themselves or sexual messages to you, social media platforms like Facebook have report features.

If someone is distributing sexual content of you online, the Australian eSafety Commissioner offers advice and guidance about taking action against them. It is important to document all content sent to you, including text-based messages, if you want to make a legal report.

The best way of ensuring sexting is a pleasurable experience is by making sure you are comfortable with everything that you are doing online.

Support Services

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800. A free, private and confidential telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25.

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732. A national counselling helpline, information and support 24/7 for people experiencing sexual assault or domestic and family violence.

QLife: 1800 184 527. Anonymous and free LGBTI peer support and referral for people in Australia to talk about sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings and relationships. Open from 3pm to midnight AEST daily. 

eSafety Commission Image-Based Abuse Portal: A national portal to help with removing intimate or nude images from online platforms, and for taking action against someone who shared your images without consent. 

 

 

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