“Sending nudes” Sexting

News April 2022

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Sexting means using a phone or the internet to take, ask for, receive, send, or share intimate photos or videos, including where someone is naked, partly naked, posing sexually, or doing a sexual act (Youth Law Australia). Teens tend to use other words like ‘nudes’ and ‘dick pics’.

Sending Nudes or Sexting

Teens should be aware that in NSW, any sexting involving under-18s is against the law.

Sharing an intimate or sexy image or a video of someone without their consent is image-based abuse, and it can be a crime. Even if a sext has been sent, it does not automatically mean the person who has sent it has consented to the sext being shared with anyone else. People are allowed to change their minds about sexting at any time!

The Law Facts
  • Sexting can be a crime if it involves people under 18, even if they have consented.
  • Under the national law, it is illegal to make, share, request, access or possess images or recordings that are offensive and show a person under 18 (or show someone who looks like they are under 18) in a sexual way. This includes texts or pictures of children and young people who are: posing in a sexual way, involved in a sexual act with someone else who is posing in a sexual way or involved in a sexual act showing their private parts. These sorts of images or videos are also called ‘child abuse material’. In NSW, it is a crime to possess, make or share child abuse material that shows a child under the age of 16.
  • Child abuse material can be photos or videos, but also other images like drawings and even cartoons. It also includes pictures that have been photoshopped or digitally altered to make the person look young or naked.
  • It’s also against the law for someone who is 18 or over to use a phone or the internet to: groom a person who is under 16,  engage in sexual activity with someone who is under 16 persuade someone who is under 16 to engage in sexual activity with you or someone else.
  • If you are 18 or over, we recommend that you don’t sext with anyone under 18, especially if they are under 16. Sexting someone under 16 can be a serious crime under the national law.
  • Under NSW law, it is a defence to a charge involving child abuse material if you:
  • Take a photo of yourself alone and you are under 18 – making or keeping this photo is not against the law
  • Receive a sext from another person under 18 without asking for it, if you immediately delete the sext
  • Are under 18 and you have a photo or video of someone else who is under 16, and an average person would think it is OK for you to have it (taking into account things like your relationship with the person in the image, how explicit the picture is, and how it was made and shared).

However, these defences won’t necessarily apply to a crime under the national law.
So how common is it?

Most teens are not sharing nudes. Large surveys from the US, UK and around the world indicate that about 1 in 6 teens have sent a nude and roughly a quarter of teens have received one.

Why does if feel like it is happening younger and younger?

Because it is! Due to advances in technology and access to social media at a young age there is increased access and opportunity. Young people are also entering puberty at an earlier age. It is important to start to have these conversations with children early and often around consent , body boundaries and staying safe online.

Why do teens do it?

Some teens exchange nudes because they are in a relationship and want to flirt, experiment, connect or show attraction. Some do it because they like how they look and want to show people.

But there are other reasons, too. Some teens send or ask for nudes because:

  • They think they have to do it to keep a boyfriend or girlfriend happy
  • They feel like ‘everyone is doing it, so it is a societal norm
  • They think it will make people like them
  • They want a thrill or a laugh
  • They want to shock, annoy or prank someone
  • They have been pressured or blackmailed into it.
  • Some teens have received unwanted nudes or requests for nudes from strangers online.

Does sexting always go wrong?

Not always. Studies from the US, UK and around the world show that many teens who send and receive nudes say that nothing bad happened afterwards.

However, some teens have had devastating experiences. Some have been blackmailed by people who threatened to share their nudes unless the teen gave them money or more nudes. Other teens have had their nudes shared without their consent – eg. by an ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend or other students at their school.

Teens who have been victimised can feel angry, humiliated, guilty or distraught. Some withdraw from school, friendships and family life, or struggle with their mental health.

No one should be blamed if their nudes were shared without their consent. It’s the person who shared the nude who made a bad choice: to violate someone else’s trust and do something that hurts other people.

Sharing someone’s nudes without their consent is called image-based abuse.

What can parents do?

It’s important to talk regularly with our teens about what’s happening in their friendship groups and agree on clear family rules about what’s OK and not OK to do online.

Parents also need to speak with teens about sexting. Important messages to share include:

  • Despite what we might hear in the media, most people don’t send nudes.
  • It’s always OK to say ‘no’ to something we don’t want to do – even if we are in a relationship and we love the other person. If the other person really loved and respected us, they would accept our no response.
  • We should never share, save or look at anyone else’s nudes without their consent. We also need consent before we send a nude or ask for a nude. For tips on talking about consent, see https://raisingchildren.net.au/teens/communicating-relationships/tough-topics/sexual-consent-how-to-talk-with-children-teens.
  • Sending nudes doesn’t always go wrong, but it’s risky. Phones can get stolen, accounts can get hacked, and even someone we like might make a bad decision.
  • If someone’s nudes have been shared without their consent, they are not to blame. They should be supported, not bullied.
  • If something goes wrong online, it’s important to ask for help. Support is out there.

So how do I have “the chat”?

Parents can talk with teens about how they could respond if they were asked to send nudes and didn’t want to. Some people just say ‘no’. Some block the person who asked. Some make a joke or send a funny picture of something else. Some send pics that are flirty but not graphic. This can lead the way to discussing “red flags” in relationships or potential partners, things the your young person would like and not like within the relationship. What healthy relationships look like and how they make you feel.

Still struggling to have the conversation?

Try watching movies that focus around the issue such as “The Hunting” on SBS IVIEW, to start having the dialog.

Some good books include; Loveability: An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships by Dannielle Miller and Nina Funnell, Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers by Nancy Amanda Redd, Let’s Talk Sex and Emotional Safety Workbook by Greer Alexandra. (https://sexedrescue.com/sex-education-books-teens-teenagers/) Reading the book first yourself can help build you confidence to have the conversation with your young person.

What if my teen has been involved in sexting?

  • Stay calm and get the full story. Make clear to your teen that you’re glad you found out and that you will focus on finding a solution and keeping everyone safe.
  • Ask them to take a deep breathe (be grateful they trusted you and felt safe enough to tell you)
  • Nudes should be deleted from devices, social media and websites immediately. If this can’t be managed, report it to the website or eSafety. Kids help line can also offer a step by step response (https://kidshelpline.com.au/teens/issues/sexting)
  • Do not save, share or look at images of under-18s yourself.
  • If someone’s nudes have been shared without consent, you can report it to eSafety to get images taken down and the matter investigated. You can also contact police.
  • If an adult has tried to involve someone under 18 in sexting, you can report it to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation or police.
  • If a student is at risk, contact your school’s wellbeing team.
  • For further support, contact a trusted GP, sexual assault counselling service, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800, or 1800 RESPECT or Lifeline 13 11 14 (available 24/7, for all ages) QLife ​1800 184 527 (available 3pm to midnight, everyday, for all ages)
  • If someone is in immediate danger, call triple zero (000).

Supporting our most vulnerable teens

Any teens might get involved in sexting, but some are at higher risk. These vulnerable teens need support and care to deal with the struggles they face online and offline.

Sexting is more common among teens who have been cyber bullied, taken risks online or shown worrying use of tech, such as:

  • Visiting dating or gambling websites
  • Viewing disturbing material like anorexia or self-harming sites
  • Chatting with strangers online, then meeting them in person
  • Spending huge amounts of time online, with many different accounts
  • Feeling like they need technology to ‘escape’ from their lives.

Sexting is also more common among teens who may be going through real-life struggles, such as:

  • Teens with mental health concerns, especially eating disorders
  • Teens who live in out-of-home care or are young carers
  • Teens with disabilities or chronic illness
  • Teens who struggle with deep worry, unhappiness or anger
  • Teens who don’t describe themselves as male or female
  • Teens involved in risky, thrill-seeking behaviours
  • Teens who’ve had a number of sexual relationships
  • Teens who are same-sex attracted.

We must support all our teens to stay happy, healthy and kind online.

Want to know more?
If you would like to know more about this story, its author or would like to submit an idea for an upcoming story, please get in touch.