For free and confidential advice about sexting, you can get help here.
Lots of young people sext, but you should think carefully before you do. The only way to be completely legally safe when sexting is for both people to be over 18, and to consent. Remember that once an image or video is shared, it is very hard to control how it is used after that.
If a sext is sent without someone’s consent, or if a sext is threatening or harassing, then it can be serious. See our page on image-based abuse for more information.
Sexting is using a mobile phone, computer or the internet to send, receive or share nude or sexy pictures or videos (sometimes known as ‘nudes’), or sexy texts.
Sexting is not a crime if everyone involved is over 18, and consents. However, you should think carefully before you do, and only sext with someone you trust. Once an image or video is shared, it is very hard to control how it is used after that.
Sharing an intimate or sexy image or a video of someone without their consent is image-based abuse, and it can be a crime. You can check out our page on image-based abuse for more information on non-consensual sexting.
Remember, just because someone has sent you a sext, it does not automatically mean they consent to the sext being shared with anyone else. People are allowed to change their minds about sexting at any time!
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:
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 the law for someone who is 18 or over to use a phone or the internet to:
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:
However, these defences won’t necessarily apply to a crime under the national law.
Sexting can also be a form of harassment. For example, someone might keep bothering you for a naked picture of yourself. Or they might send you naked pictures that you don’t want, even if you tell them to stop. Or they might threaten to send a naked picture of you to other people without your permission.
Sexting that involves harassment or threats can be a crime, especially if it is done using the internet or your phone. If someone is harassing or threatening you, you can report them to police. If it is not an emergency, you can call the Police Assistance Line on 131 444. If you are scared for your safety or in immediate danger, you should call the police on 000.
If you commit a crime involving child abuse or child exploitation material, the consequences can be very serious. You could be investigated and charged by the police, and if you are found guilty you could end up with a criminal record or even go to jail.
In serious cases, you could also be placed on the NSW Child Protection Register if you are found guilty. This might make it difficult for you to work in jobs where you have contact with children.
If you are under 18, the chances of you getting into trouble for sexting are lower, especially if you are sexting someone who is around your age with their permission. However, every situation is different. It’s safer if you don’t ask for, send, post online, or keep on your phone or computer nude or sexual images of someone under 18.
If you might have committed one or more of these crimes and you are contacted by the police, we strongly recommend you get legal advice straight away. For free legal advice, you can contact us. You can also contact your local Community Legal Centre, LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529, or the Legal Aid Youth Hotline on 1800 10 18 10.
Most websites, phone companies and social media services have rules that apply to sending, posting or sharing child abuse material or other offensive material. If you break these rules the material could be removed, your account may be suspended or closed, or you may even be reported to the police.
If you are worried about a sext someone has sent you, we recommend you:
If you are worried about a nude or sexual picture of you that someone has taken or shared (or threatened to take or share), there are things you can do to protect yourself, including:
See our page on What can I do if someone has shared or threatened to share my intimate images? for more information.
Get legal advice.
If you are worried about a nude or sexual image you or someone else has taken, or a sext that’s been shared, we recommend you get legal advice.
A lawyer can help you work out what you should do, including how to get images removed or deleted if they have been shared or posted online. For free legal advice, you can contact us. You can also contact your local Community Legal Centre, LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529, or the Legal Aid Youth Hotline on 1800 10 18 10.
Talk to someone.
If you are feeling down, anxious or stressed about the situation, we encourage you to talk to someone you trust like a friend, your parents or another trusted adult. If you would rather talk to someone you don’t know, you can call one of these services for free and private counselling support.
Criminal Code 1995 (Cth)
Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)
Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 (Cth)
Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000 (NSW)
Reviewed on 9 February 2021
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