Grant 53/11-12: Sexting and young people: Perceptions, practices, policy and law

This Report presents the results of a two-year multi-methods Criminology Research Grant-funded project that focuses on the prevalence, contexts, motivations, and regulation of sexting in by young people. This includes a large online survey of young people about their practices and perceptions, focus group interviews, a media analysis, and an extensive legal analysis. Young people have integrated online and digital technology into their personal relationships and sexual development and this has become a significant issue for policy makers. News media in Australia, North America and other Western countries have reported with concern on cases of ‘sexting’ where minors have used mobile phone digital cameras to manufacture and distribute sexual images of themselves and/or others, in some cases falling foul of child abuse material or child pornography laws. This report suggests while 50% of young people surveyed reported sending a sexual image or video, the vast majority of those who have sent such images do not do so often. They also tend to exchange images with a single partner. It also finds that while young people judge others who ‘sext’ negatively, those that have sent a sext tend to judge their own behaviour positively. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, most shared images do not get sent on to third parties. The report also highlights the gendered double standards inherent in such activities. In concluding, the report draws attention to the disconnect between young people’s motivations for sexting and the child pornography and child abuse laws that can be used to regulate the behaviour suggesting the need to significant law reform in jurisdictions where such laws can be applied. It also suggests that given the motivations and experiences of sexting by young people, prevention and safety campaigns to minimise the risks involved need to address the reality of these experiences.