Often, it’s the difficult conversations that are never tackled. And yet, more often than not, they are the most important conversations we need to have. When you’re a teacher, having honest, up front conversations related to adolescent behaviour and sexual curiosity are sometimes uncomfortable for both yourself, and your students. But these conversations are necessary. Sometimes, it’s the only time a student will be offered advice from an adult concerned for their welfare.
Today, I had one of these conversations. It wasn’t one to one advice, it was an address to our Year 11 cohort, and the topic was sexting. When I told them we were going to be discussing this today, there was an uneasy rustling in their seats. I assured them that I knew they were probably feeling a tad uncomfortable about our topic, and I let them know that I wasn’t totally at ease myself, but that I thought it was important that I impart information they need to know.
I didn’t use a slideshow for this presentation. What we did was look at some recent published articles from online newspapers that made the complexities of the situation pretty clear. But first, we began with the law as it stands in Victoria today, using information from the Victoria Legal Aid site. The language used is not legal speak; it’s clear cut and simple for them to grasp. Here are the sections we looked at today.
You could be charged by the police with producing child pornography if:
- you take a nude or semi-nude picture of a person under 18, even if they are your friend and consent (agree) to the picture being taken
- you take photos or video of a person under 18 involved in sexual activity or posing in an indecent sexual manner (or who looks like they are).
You could also be charged with possessing child pornography if you go onto the internet and download pornography showing people under 18.
If you put a pornographic photo or video on the internet or your phone, print a photo, or email or text it to a friend, you could be charged with publishing or transmitting child pornography. You could be charged even if you are the same age or younger than the person in the picture or video.
People found guilty of sexual offences or child pornography are stopped from working or volunteering with children – for example, as a teacher or a sports coach – or volunteering with children.
Mobile phone pictures and the risks of ‘sexting
’‘Sexting’ or sending ’sext messages’ is where nude and/or sexual images are taken on a mobile phone, often by young people and their friends. This is a crime if the photo includes a person under 18. Sexting is already leading to young people being charged by police with child pornography offences.
Think carefully about the consequences of taking or sending pictures of your friends on your mobile phone, especially if they are not fully dressed and even if they agree. You could be charged by police for committing a criminal offence.
It may seem like harmless fun, but be careful – once you send pictures electronically they can become part of your ‘digital footprint’ and this lasts forever. It could damage your future career prospects or relationships.
From the reactions of the students, it was pretty clear most of them had not much of an idea of the legal ramifications of actions detailed above, particularly the receiving and forwarding on of images via mobile phones. I let them know I shared their concern about the punitive nature of the law as it stands, and the serious impact on a person’s digital footprint and work prospects if they are charged with a child pornography offence. To illustrate its effect, I explained how a 17 year old who might want to be a teacher, would not be able to complete their degree if they had been charged, as they would be unable to obtain a working with children check. They would not be able to enter a school to complete a teaching placement.
We then looked at three recent articles, one from the New York Times, and two from The Age, one of Victoria’s daily newspapers.
A girl’s nude photo, and altered lives – New York Times article
Teen sexting: it’s illegal, but it’s in every high school – The Age
‘Sexting’ youths placed on sex offenders register – The Age
These stories were enough to cement the learning intentions of this session. I would think it fair to say that the majority of students learned a great deal today and went home with much food for thought.
Honest, up front discussions like these form part of our responsibility to create effective digital citizens out of the teenagers in our care. Are you having these conversations in your schools today? If you aren’t, perhaps use the above information as your guide. We may not agree with the legislation, but it exists, and our young people need to be informed. We really can’t afford to have our young people unnecessarily punished due to a lack of understanding about the ramifications of their actions.