7% of children have had pictures or video of themselves posted online without their permission

The growing trend in sexting among young people is reaching new heights with cases in both SA and WA of children as young as 12 years old producing and distributing graphic images of other children. Yet more teenagers have been caught downloading and passing on hardcore child pornography on the internet.

WA Police Minister Rob Johnson said he was concerned that many school students did not understand they faced child pornography charges over sexting.

“Children don’t see it as a crime and fail to grasp the consequences of their actions,” Mr Johnson said.

“They may think they are only sending an image to their boyfriend or girlfriend, but they could be sending that image to the world, which could have devastating long-term psychological effects.”

SA Police said the sexting trend is becoming worse as more children are given access to technology.

Detective Senior Sergeant Barry Blundell, from the commercial and electronic crime branch, said police were working with schools to educate children on the consequences distributing sexually explicit images.

“One of those behaviours we are becoming aware of now is instances of children either photographing themselves in an intimate manner or taking photos of others – and then sending it to other people. The ramifications of that from a legal perspective are that they are producing and disseminating child pornography.”

Cyber safety expert and Generation Next speaker Susan McLean defined sexting as: the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between mobile phones, but can include internet applications such as MSN, email, or social networking sites.

Once photos are sent, there is no way to get them back, and once in cyberspace, they become a permanent part of a person’s digital footprint. This means that they can forever be linked to that person and without doubt will resurface when least expected such as a job interview.

Ms McLean advised that “parents must learn about the internet with their child” and that schools need to “teach children that information on the web is not always reliable.”

Many teenagers are still under the misconception that if they send an intimate picture of themselves to their partner then it is ‘private’ however once these images hit cyber-space, they are out therefore ever and can be accessed in many ways by many people.

Ms McLean continued “with the explosion of cyber technology, the issues of cyber bullying and ‘sexting’ are emerging as the number one issue confronting the safety and wellbeing of young people and the wider community”.

“Together with associated technology including 3G mobile telephones, Instant Messaging(MSN), online games and the popularity of social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook & now Twitter, today’s youth have access to and are accessible by many millions of people worldwide,” she concluded.

For other teenagers sexting is taking on a more sinister form with cases in both WA and SA of young people actively and deliberately producing and distributing explicit images via mobile phones and the internet. They are fully aware of the images they are producing but not of the fact that this is a criminal offence and that someone else’s privacy has been breached.

It is unclear what sort of consent of participation the people who posed for the pictures played in all this. Are they aware of how the images will be used or the vulnerable position they are placing themselves in?

The most disturbing aspect of all this is how some young people have become desensitised to the whole topic, for them it is OK to take graphic intimate and ultimately pornographic images of both themselves and others and circulate those images freely via the ether.

Why is it that teenagers are not aware that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable within our society and that in doing so they are breaking the laws of this country, not to mention the unwritten laws of decency and self worth?

The survey by home computer support service Gizmo questioned 1,025 parents and children around Australia and found that 7% of children had had someone post online a picture or video of them without their permission.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.

Source: Perth Now. Susan McLean