By now we’ve established a few key points about sexting regulation in Australia, (1) it’s messy, (2) a lot of it is (very) outdated, (3) it is trying to be better. But for an issue that tends to have a focus on young people, educating those same young people about sexting is quite obviously not a priority.
Here at Bare It All we aim to help educate everyone about all things nudity and sex. This is not the general approach. Young people are not educated about how to engage in these practices safely; instead, they’re taught about the dangerous of sexting. Every website or sex ed lesson tends to focus on one issue ‘WHAT TO DO WHEN SEXTING GOES WRONG‘.
While this is important, this message is not communicated in the right. Here are a few examples.
The eSafety Commission is a branch fo the federal government, with an aim of ‘Helping Australian’s to have safer, more positive experiences online’. With an entire section dedicated to ‘Sending nudes and sexting’, one would assume that this would be a user friendly, safe space for young people to understand sexting. Instead the first words you are greeted with:
“While sharing intimate images or text messages may seem like innocent flirting, it can have serious social and legal consequences.”
Don’t get me wrong this is very important information – how to report image based abuse, how to ‘stay calm’ and where to get help. However, it makes no attempt to be an inclusive, easily accessible website. It is not designed to be a place where young people can learn about sexting, hwo to do it safely, or to understand what their rights are.
With big blocks of text and flashy warning messages I can’t image this as the first point of contact for a young people when soemthing goes wrong.
The QLD govenment’s approach, unfortunately, is not much different. Only a single article, that looks suspiciously like a poorly formatted Wikipedia page, is dedicated to sexting.
It is stock-standard in it’s approach and includes the following:
- What is Image Based Abuse
- How to Report It
- Where to Get Support
Simple and straight the point, I admire that. But also it is not something that is likely to grab the attention of a 16 year-old concerned about whether an image they’ve shared or received is breaking the law.
Again, I don’t have a lot to say. Picture the QLD website above, with purple headings and a stock image of a teenager looking at an outdated phone.
The extend of the advice on this website can be summarised in one sentence:
“For people under 18, non-consensual sexting is illegal and penalties can be very serious.”
That’s all I have to say on that one, and for the Department of Education and Training, an organisation that is meant to know how to engage young people it seems like a pretty poor effort.
This website is miles away from the ones mentioned above. True, it is far from perfect. But at least it’s trying.
This website is another government initative and was developed in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police. It is Australia’s first (and only) nationally delivered cyber safety program. It provides information on technologies young people use, the challenges they may face and how they can be overcome – presentations are delivered face-to-face and digitally.
“We aim to provide you with the tools to create a safer online environment for young people. Our presentations cover what young people SAY, SEE and DO online.”
The website is prettier, more accessible and overall executed a bit better than its predecessors. However, like most websites its main messages about sexting are based in ‘revenge porn’ and ‘sextortion’. The same scare tactics and the same message over and over, ‘sexting is dangerous’.
Much to my surprise this website, an initiative by the Western Australian government, is on the way to getting it right.
It includes an entire article on Sexting. Rather than the ‘SEXTING IS BAD’ approach it offers a simple explanation of the laws and when sexting is, and isn’t, OK.
With a section titled ‘Fun Stuff‘, it’s most definitely the most x-rated govenment site I’ve ever seen.
It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that sex education isn’t keeping up with technology or current opinions on sexting among young people.
Every website and every education initiative takes a zero tolerance appraoch. It is obvious that this is not working. We need a harm-reduction approach that educates and informs. We need to be putting messages out there that teach young people how to engage in these practices safely, focusing on important issues such as privacy, consent and interpersonal trust.
That’s not to say that information on what to do when sexting goes wrong isn’t important. But it can be given to young people in a more accessible, engaging format. In a way that would encourage them to engage with the material in a positive way.
In the meantime, there’s always our website to explore – and do remember, if you need help the resources mentioned above are useful and can help, even if they do look a little outdated.
Comment below to get involved in the conversation, we’d love to hear from you. Click here for our cheat sheet on how to navigate these laws and regulations when sexting. Be safe x