Law Reform Committee – Sexting

Ms GARRETT (Brunswick) — As the member for Prahran has pointed out, we are living in a unique period in history in which there has been an absolute explosion in technology and the use of communication devices and a rapid advancement in the capacity of those devices to take images and video. When I was a 16-year-old girl mobile phones did not exist. We used to have to use payphones, and we had to be on time for our appointments. I watch my children now and see they are adept at dealing with iPads, iPhones and the rest from a very young age.

We are in a sense caught in a trap with young people where those of us who are their parents and their educators, along with the law enforcers and those who make the rules, have little knowledge of what these communication devices do, how they are used and what role they play in young people’s lives.

In a sense the committee felt very strongly that this issue has got away from society in many ways; that children are using technology in a completely different way with which members are not au fait, and that perhaps society had not caught up with the changes.

The committee heard from many different experts, including academics, police, educators and counsellors. Most importantly, it heard from young people themselves about the role of communication devices, the role that sharing images with each other plays and the impact it has on their lives. Two major issues or themes emerged in relation to how sexting causes great harm: education for young people and the justice response. This emerges primarily in cases where material is distributed to others without consent, in terms of the loss of ownership of their digital footprint, and the fact that the image is there for all time and the loss of control over who can see it and the manner in which it is then used. These things can cause great harm, particularly to children but also to adults.

With respect to education, a critical finding of the committee’s work is that cybersafety and issues of sexting need to be embedded in school curriculums.