People who send or threaten to distribute explicit images without consent could soon be charged, with the Napthine government introducing Australia’s first “sexting” offences into Parliament this week.
The new laws, which will be introduced into Parliament on Thursday, will ensure that young people who receive or send raunchy but non-exploitative sexts are spared from child pornography offences and being placed on the sex offenders register.
The changes are recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry that was triggered by reports in The Sunday Age of young people whose career prospects were ruined after they were caught with intimate images and placed on the register.
“It is important that the law keeps up with rapid changes in the use of technology, and that we ensure young persons aged under 18 are not inappropriately prosecuted or added to the sex offenders register for consensual, non-exploitative sexting,” Attorney-General Robert Clark said.
The government will create two new summary offences for distributing an intimate image or threatening to distribute an intimate image in “circumstances contrary to community standard of acceptable conduct”.
“The two new summary offences send a clear message that the malicious use of intimate images to embarrass and denigrate a victim is unacceptable and a criminal offence,” Mr Clark said.
Young people under 18 who create, possess or distribute a sext of themselves or another child who is less than two years younger will not be guilty of a child pornography offence.
But this will not apply to images that capture a criminal offence such as a sexual assault, and the exceptions will not apply to adults. Under previous laws, sexts were classified as child pornography when they depicted people under 18, even when the subject of the photo took the image and willingly sent it to others.
Legal and child safety experts welcomed the changes, saying the previous legislation led to the registration of people “who posed no risk to the sexual safety of the community”.
Chair of the Law Institute of Victoria’s criminal law section Sam Norton said: “Young people were placed on the sex offenders register and had their career ruined. These changes are to be applauded.”
Cyber safety consultant and former policewoman Susan McLean said sexting was an issue at every secondary school in Australia and the changes would provide recourse to victims of “revenge porn”.
Committee chair Clem Newton-Brown said when the laws relating to child pornography were written no one considered that children would take pictures of themselves naked and forward the images to others.
“While we don’t want to encourage sexting between kids, we also don’t want them at risk of being convicted of creating child pornography when all they have done is something a bit stupid.”