SEXT AWAY: New Australian Law Allows Teens to Sext Without Being Called A Sex Offender

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Children who send and receive raunchy photos through text and social media will no longer have to fear being labeled a sex offender in one Australian state under a new law proposed in Parliament on Thursday.

Under the law, minors under the age of 18 who possess or distribute a nude image of themselves to another minor will not face child pornography charges. The same applies to a minor who distributes an image of another child, so long as that child is not more than two years younger.

The law does not extend to images that show sexual crimes, including assault and rape, The Age newspaper reports, nor does it apply to those over the age of 18.

The proposal follows a government inquiry sparked by a newspaper report that painted the picture of young adults whose careers were blemished because of sex offenses committed when they were younger. Legislators in the Australian territory of Victoria felt child pornography laws, when applied to minors, were especially outdated and draconian in the age of instant technology and social media.

“It is important that the law keeps up with rapid changes in the use of technology, and that we ensure young persons aged under 18 are not inappropriately prosecuted or added to the sex offenders register for consensual, non-exploitative sexting,” Robert Clark, the territory’s attorney general, told The Age.

Experts seem to agree that penalties levied against those who distribute child pornography should be aligned with the harm caused.

“We don’t want judicial discretion when we’re dealing with pedophiles but we do need it when we’re dealing with children,” former police officer and cyber security expert Susan McLean told the ABC.

That same debate is being had in the United States as well, where officials have seen a steady rise in juveniles being prosecuted for sex crimes under the same laws that adults are subjected to. In the United States, juveniles account for 17 percent of sex crime arrests every year, and as instantaneous technology becomes cheaper and more widespread, that number is steadily rising.

In some cases, judges have taken it upon themselves to offer lenient, more appropriate sentences to teenagers who innocuously distribute nude images of themselves. In lieu of placement on sex predator databases, offenders are sentenced to community service and offered counseling — or, rarely, not prosecuted at all.

But authorities have come off as heavy-handed in other notable cases, such as that of a 17-year-old football player in Virginia who was nearly ordered to achieve an erection in front of police so that investigators could photograph his penis and compare it to sexts found on his former girlfriend’s cellphone.

After the story was published by NBC affiliate WRC-TV and The Washington Post, prosecutors decided not to follow through on the forced erection. Earlier this month, the teen was sentenced to probation and community service. As part of his probation, he was ordered not to use text messaging or the Internet for one year.

The judge — who earlier signed off on the search warrant authorizing the forced erection — told the teen he did not want the young man’s life to start off with a felony conviction. Others have not been as fortunate. That is something that many have said needs to change.

“It’s not about making it open slather for young people to share naked images, which can have catastrophic consequences,” McLean says. “It’s about making sure that when this happens the results and penalties are aligned to the harm that’s done.”

Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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