Sexting

For free and confidential advice about image-based abuse, you can get help here.

Sharing intimate images is increasingly a part of young people’s self-expression and sexual agency. However, there are criminal laws that may apply depending on the circumstances and also the age of the people involved. The only way to be completely legally safe when texting is for both people to be over 18 and fully consenting. On this page, we explain some of the laws that may apply to young people exchanging sexual images.

Remember that once an image or video is shared, it is very hard to control how it is used after that.

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What is sexting?

Sexting refers to using a mobile phone or the internet to take, ask for, receive, send or share intimate photos or video, including where someone is naked, partly naked, posing sexually or doing a sexual act. 

Sexting may be a crime if it involves people under 18, even if they consented (that is, agreed to sending and receiving the sexts). This is because the sexts may be considered to be child abuse material (sometimes called child pornography). 

If the people involved in the sexting haven’t consented, or the sexts are threatening or harassing, then it’s more serious and further criminal laws may apply. You can check out our pages on image-based abuse for more information on non-consensual sexting. For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.

How consent works

It is never safe to assume someone has agreed to you taking or sending nude or sexual images of them, or that they want to sext with you. The person must have freely and voluntarily agreed – so their consent won’t count if they are drunk or you have threatened them. Someone who consents to sexting with you does not automatically consent to those sexts being shared with anyone else, or to any other sexual act. Remember – people are allowed to change their minds about sexting at any time! 

What the law says

If it involves people under 18, sexting can be a crime even if everyone involved has consented. This is because it might be considered child abuse material (sometimes known as ‘child pornography’). 

Please note the law in this area is complicated and this is just a summary. If you have been sexting and are worried about anything you have sent or received then we recommend you get legal advice straight away.

What is child pornography/child abuse material?

The law makes it illegal to create, share or keep child abuse material. This refers to images, texts or videos of children 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; or
  • showing their genital area, anal area or their breasts for a sexual purpose.

The images 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.

The image has to be ‘offensive’ to the average person. This means innocent family photos of naked kids having a bath probably wouldn’t be considered as child abuse material material, but a naked teenager posing in a bed could be in some circumstances.

There are two sets of laws that can apply to sexting. Under NT state law and national law, it is illegal to make, share, request or possess material that could be considered child abuse material. A child is considered to be anyone under the age of 18, or someone that appears to be under 18 due to the circumstances (e.g. if they are wearing a school uniform).

Because both state and national laws apply in NT, it is risky for a person under 18 to send a sext. If you’re concerned about a sext that you’ve sent or received, get free legal advice here.

What could happen if I break the law?

Even though technically the chances of someone under 18  getting into trouble for sexting are lower, every situation is different and 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 (even yourself). If you are unsure, you can get free legal advice here. 

If you are found guilty of breaking the laws listed above, the consequences can be very serious. For example you could end up with a criminal record or even go to jail. 

In serious cases, you could also be placed on the NT Child Protection Offender Register if you are sentenced. This might make it difficult for you to work in jobs where you have contact with children.

Also note that most websites, phone companies and social media services have rules that apply to sending, posting or sharing nude or sexual pictures or offensive text. If you break these rules the material could be removed, your account could be suspended or closed, or you could even be reported to the police. 

What can I do if I’m worried about an image that’s been taken or a sext that’s been shared?

We recommend you:

  • delete any images you are uncomfortable with straight away, especially if the person in the picture has asked you to;
  • don’t send these images to anyone else or post them online; 
  • if someone is sending you sexts, and you don’t want to receive them, ask them to stop; and
  • never request, share or keep sexts involving people under 18.

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 or one of these services:

Talk to someone. If you are feeling down, anxious or stressed about the situation, we encourage you to talk to a parent or another trusted adult. Even if you are worried about getting into trouble, it might be better to get help from someone so you can sort things out. 

If you would rather talk to a trained counsellor, you can call one of the services ​listed below ​for free and private counselling support.

  • Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 (available 24/7, for young people between 5 and 25)
  • eHeadspace 1800 650 890 (available 9am to 1am, everyday, for young people between 12 and 25) 
  • Lifeline 13 11 14 (available 24/7, for all ages)
  • QLife1800 184 527 (available 3pm to midnight, everyday, for all ages)
  • 1800RESPECT 1800 737 732 (available 24/7, for all ages)
  • Mensline Australia 1300 78 99 78 (available 24/7, for men of all ages)

If someone won’t stop sexting you, won’t remove or delete images after you’ve asked, or the sexts are threatening or harassing, then you can see our page on image based abuse for more information, or get legal advice. 

If you are in immediate danger call the police on 000.

Reviewed on 9/2/2021

Sources

Criminal Code 1995 (Cth)

Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT)

Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 (Cth)

Eades v DPP (NSW) [2010] NSWCA 241

DPP v Eades [2009] NSWSC 1352

Police v Ravshan USMANOV [2011] NSWLC 40

DPP v Sutherland [2015] VCC 1592

Child Protection (Offender Reporting and Registration) Act 2004 (NT)

If you have a question about sexting that we haven’t answered here, and you are aged 24 or under, you can contact us here.

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