Teen sexting 'not necessarily' child porn, former judge says

Teen sexting 'not necessarily' child porn, former judge says
Teen sexting 'not necessarily' child porn, former judge says

Many teenagers engaged in sexting are being inappropriately charged with child pornography-related offences, a retired judge has declared in a youth sexual violence report to the Queensland Government.

The final report of the Youth Sexual Violence and Abuse Steering Committee, handed down this week, has declared teen sexting must not necessarily be labelled as child pornography.

The report was tabled in Queensland Parliament on Tuesday, 16 months after it was first delivered to the Government.

It noted an almost four-fold increase in the number of young offenders with reported child pornography-related offences in Queensland from 2011-12 to 2015-16.

Report author, retired Supreme Court judge Stanley Jones, said the increase was "undoubtedly closely related to advances in technology and the sharing of explicit images via mobile phone and online".

Justice Jones said there was a disconnect between current laws that can criminalise young people for engaging in sexting, which is becoming a normal part of healthy sexual relationships.

He recommended introducing guidelines to help police determine when it is appropriate or inappropriate to lay charges against young people for offences related to sexting and sharing or receiving sexually explicit images.

"The intention of the guidelines is to ensure young people are protected, whilst balancing the need to prevent unnecessary criminalisation," he said.

Di Macleod from the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence said she agreed with the introduction of guidelines supporting police to make good decisions around balancing up protection versus criminalisation would be a positive move.

But she said gender dynamics needed to be considered when it came to setting guidelines on sexting.

"We see a lot more young men sharing images a lot more widely," Ms Macleod said.

"What we hear is, yes young women are sharing consensually as well, but often we hear about how they were coerced into sharing those images, or feel threatened, or what are going to be the consequences if they don't share those images?

"They're damned if they do and damned if they don't for a young woman in 2018."

Photo Young girls are often pressured into sharing sexualised images via mobile phone, Ms McLeod said.

Summer Skyes 11 - Creative Commons

Ms McLeod said young girls who sent sexually explicit photos could end up facing criminal charges.

"We have seen instances where it [sexting] has come to the attention of the police and they speak to those young women as offenders rather than seeing them as victims who've been placed in that position by coercion."

The report found from 2008-09 to 2015-16 there were between 2,300 and 2,600 young sexual offence victims reported to police each year.

It said accounting for under-reporting, the actual figures were likely to be much higher.

The report made 31 recommendations, including a whole-of-government response to youth sexual violence and abuse, further data collection and making respectful relationships programs compulsory in primary and secondary school.

"All we can do as a society is make sure they're educated as to the risks and as to the ethics about engaging in this," Justice Jones said.

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