Reform to save sexting teens from themselves

By Billy Adams

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

It was a typical teenage romance. Two lovestruck 17-year-olds, exploring their sexuality, filmed themselves having intercourse.

Shortly afterwards, the relationship went pear-shaped and, in a fury, the ex-boyfriend emailed images from the offending video to three friends.

Regrets? He's had a few.

Because of that "moment of rage", the young Melbourne man is now on a state sex offender register that was set up to protect children from paedophiles.

When the list was established a decade ago, consequences like this were as unforeseen as the explosion in "sexting" that has caused them.

Sending risque images of yourself or your better half on your mobile or favourite social network is fast becoming an adolescent rite of passage.

But the law, just like the immature minds involved, has failed to keep pace with the technology delivering these teenage kicks.

Not so long ago the nadir of adolescent embarrassment stretched to playground sniggers over a surreptitious Polaroid.

Now the same indiscreet poses are shared instantly with thousands via the press of a smartphone button, leaving a permanent digital footprint.

The legal consequences border on the absurd.

With no legislation specifically covering "sexting", authorities around the world have had to fall back on laws dealing with the distribution of disturbing images featuring minors; laws designed to crack down on paedophiles and child pornography.

Last week the Victorian Parliament's law reform committee delivered a series of recommendations that, if implemented, will ensure a more common sense approach in future.

Committee chairman Clem Newton-Brown described the present laws as "wholly inadequate". "We don't believe that it's appropriate for kids to even be at risk of child pornography laws when they've done nothing more than explore their sexuality in a risky but age-appropriate way with children of similar ages," he said.

Cases like the angry 17-year-old emailer prompted the inquiry, which has proposed the introduction of a specific sexting offence under the Summary Offences Act.

That would eliminate the risk of children being charged under child pornography laws and listed as sex offenders.

Similar laws are already in place elsewhere, including several states in the US, which now distinguish between explicit images exchanged by children rather than adults.

Instead of heavy sentences and lifelong shame, teen sexters can expect fines, community service or counselling.

One of the Victorian proposals mirrors a recent law change in Texas, where children can't be prosecuted for sexting if they are dating and the age difference is no more than two years.

- NZ Herald

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