Teenage Sexting and Child Pornography

Sexting is rising among teenagers between 12 and 17 years old, according to a University of Calgary study. Sexting is defined as the creation and sending of sexually intimate content via electronic means, such as text messaging, email and social media. It includes nude, semi-nude or sexually suggestive images and audio or video recordings as well as text.

Consensual sexting is generally legal for adults. However, creating and sending nude, sexually suggestive images and audio or video recordings of anyone under the age of 18 violates Canada's child pornography laws. This is true for adults and teenagers.

Even possessing such material on an electronic device breaks the child pornography laws. The Ontario Provincial Police advised anyone who had copies of the videos from the St. Michael's College hazing incidents to delete the videos immediately, as they are child pornography.

Why Child Pornography Is Criminalized - But Teenagers Still Sext

Publication of this material is often devastating for young people. The child pornography Criminal Code offences protect young people from sexual exploitation, bullying, harm or embarrassment by adults or other young people. They are intended to prevent the creation and distribution of any sexually suggestive material involving teenagers under 18.

Yet young people, especially girls, sext anyway. Teens often sext when they are in a relationship but believe they can control the images they send. These images can be saved even though some apps delete images after they are viewed. It's very easy to take and save a screenshot of an image before the image fades away. Hacking webcams or smartphones is also easy to do.

Teens usually don't think about what might happen if the relationship ends. The University of Calgary study found that girls are under greater pressure than boys to sext; 51 per cent of teen girls say that a boy pressured them to do it. Worse, 12 per cent of teens have forwarded a sext to others without the sender's approval. This often happens after a relationship has ended.

Sexting's Legal Consequences

Both teens and adults are liable under the Criminal Code for sexting child pornography. The offences include:

· Possession of images of persons under 18. This is having a picture or video on one's electronic device.

· Accessing images of persons under 18. This is looking at such images on the internet or an electronic device.

· Distribution of images of persons under 18. This includes forwarding a sext to another person or even showing it to another on one's own device.

· Luring. Asking a person under 18 to perform a sexual act over the internet.

· Threats. Telling a person under 18 that their pictures will be distributed.

Can Parents Prevent Sexting?

Parents can best help their children by communicating openly with them about sexting but remaining non-judgmental. Parents should

· Spend quality time with their children

· Get to know their children's friends and families

· Set a good example by using their devices positively

· Ask their children to show them what they are doing online

· If need be, monitor their children's cellphone and social media platform use

Anyone who discovers that intimate images or information of their children is being used without their permission should contact legal counsel experienced in dealing with child pornography matters immediately. They can help parents and teens contact police and see what other remedies they might have.