‘Sexting’ (‘sex’ + ‘texting’) means using electronic forms of communication (like mobile phone messages, Facebook, Snapchat, emails, web-cams) to send or receive sexual images.

Some people may see sexting as an expression of their sexuality, but you need to be aware of the possible risks of sexting so you can be fully informed.

young person holding a phone

Legal consequences

There are two sets of laws that apply to sexting.

  1. Under Commonwealth law (which applies to everyone in Australia), it is illegal to use your phone or internet to look at, send or encourage other people to send sexual images of anyone who is under 18 years of age (or anyone who looks under 18). This law is mainly aimed at catching adults who look at child pornography. People under the age of 18 can only be charged if the Attorney-General gives his/her permission.
  2. However, under Western Australian law, anyone can be charged for taking, sending or keeping sexual images of someone under the age of 16 years. It is also illegal to encourage someone under the age of 16 to take a sexual image of themselves.

Just saying that someone ‘agreed’ to have a sexual image of themselves taken or shared isn’t an excuse under the law.

If someone is found guilty of breaking one of these laws, they will not be able to work with kids (e.g. as a teacher or sports coach). Their details may also be placed on a register of sex offenders and the person will need to keep the police informed about their address and some other personal information. In serious cases, the person can be sent to prison.

Emotional consequences

Sexting can also impact you emotionally. Once an image is taken, it is easy to lose control over who sees it. There are lots of cases where people have sent a sexy photo to someone, and then found that the picture has been shown to others or even uploaded onto the internet for everyone to see. This can be embarrassing and hurtful, and can affect you for many years. Be aware that even images sent using technology like Snapchat (where the image is meant to ‘disappear’ after a few seconds) can be saved and shared with other people without you knowing.

What to do if a ‘private’ sext goes public

If you receive a sexual image from someone, delete it and do not forward it to others.

If a sexual image of you has been shared online, you can ask the person who shared it to remove it. You can also contact the administrator of the website and ask them to take the image down. For more information on how to do this visit the esafety website (external site)

If you think a crime has been committed, you can also contact the police.

It is a good idea to ask a trusted adult for help and support. If you want to talk to someone anonymously or confidentially, you can call:

  • Sexual Health Helpline on (08) 9227 6178 (metro) or 1800 198 205 (country)
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Just saying that someone 'agreed' to have a sexual image of themselves taken or shared isn't an excuse under the law 

More information

For more information on sexting and staying safe online, visit these websites:

Cybersmart (external site)
Cybersmart provides activities, resources and practical advice to help, kids, teens, teachers and parents safely enjoy the online world.

Bullying No Way (external site)
Bullying No Way aims to create learning environments where every student and school community member is safe, supported, respected, valued, and free from bullying, violence, harassment and discrimination.

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