herald

Friday 27 April 2018

Teens 'unaware' they could face child porn charges for sexting

Young people who ‘sext’ could be liable for ‘creating, possessing and distributing’ child pornography
Young people who ‘sext’ could be liable for ‘creating, possessing and distributing’ child pornography

Many Irish teenagers who "sext" are unaware that they can be charged with child pornography offences.

According to the Child Trafficking and Child Pornography Act 1998, the law makes no allowances for underage sexting - the exchange of sexually graphic messages.

Offenders can receive a maximum of 14 years in prison.

This topic was brought up at a Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs yesterday at Leinster House.

A number of secondary school students openly discussed their concerns and offered insight into the dark world of the internet before members of the Oireachtas.

Casual

Fifth year student Lauren Reynolds argued that very few teenagers are aware that underage sexting is illegal.

"[Sexting] has become such a casual thing," she said.

"Very few teenagers are aware of the legalities surrounding nude images, which can be classified as child exploitation material.

"I personally believe this issue is becoming out of control and a popular trend due to the lack of education and information provided to young people.

"I believe we can help prevent and tackle this issue by raising awareness and being taught about the dangers of sexting in school," added the student from Newbridge College, Kildare.

In 2016, Ireland was found to have one of the highest rates of sexting among young people in Europe.

At least a quarter of those surveyed at the time said they had sent sexually graphic messages, according to Dr Sheri Bauman, an expert in peer victimisation and cyberbullying.

Speaking to the Herald, Cork barrister Brian Hallissey said children and teens who sext are liable for three offences: creating, possessing and distributing child pornography.

"Taking a selfie of someone as a minor would be 'creation' and when you send it that's 'distribution' and if you have it on your phone that's 'possession'," he said.

Mr Hallissey added that under the current Act, even a 15-year-old can be prosecuted.

"In some states in America they allowed a relaxation of the rules, where you might have two teenagers [sexting one another]," he said.

"In Ireland, we haven't done anything yet. You can get up to 14 years for certain offences.

"Offenders are also automatically added to the Sex Offenders Register.

"I'm not aware of any prosecutions that have come before Irish courts yet, but currently there are no allowances under existing legislation.

"You would either be relying on a prosecutor not to prosecute or the discretion of the judge if it goes to court."

Ignorant

The students at yesterday's committee also discussed how parents are ignorant of the dangers of social media.

"I feel like parents are very much in the dark, because social media has come on so much in our generation," said Ms Reynolds.

"I think it's very important for parents to become educated on the workings of the sites their children are involved with."

A spokesperson from the Department of Education told the Herald that it has established recent initiatives to address internet safety concerns.

One of these - Online Parenting Hub - provides parents with advice and information.

Education Minister Richard Bruton has also launched the new Be In Ctrl resource, which was developed in partnership with gardai, to specifically address the topic of online sexual coercion and extortion.

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