Judge in warning on sext penalty
THE head of Victoria's Children's Court wants the law changed so young people caught sexting are not charged with child pornography or unfairly branded as sex offenders for life.
At present, there is no specific offence in Victoria for sending sexually explicit messages via mobile phones or the internet. Instead, sexts are classified as child pornography under the Crimes Act when the images are of people under 18 - even if the person pictured took the photographs themselves and willingly sent it to others.
It is also mandatory for a young person over 18 found guilty of possessing or sending child pornography to be registered as a sex offender.
But in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry, Children's Court president Paul Grant warned that the current regime was ''highly undesirable'' and ought to be reformed.
''Child pornography offences were developed to deal with a very different type of offending behaviour and the law should acknowledge that,'' he said.
''This incompatibility between the practice of sexting and child pornography provisions of the Crimes Act 1958 - best described as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut - may explain why the court rarely hears a sexting prosecution … In most cases, the use of cautioning or diversion would be an effective and appropriate way to address such inappropriate behaviour.''
Judge Grant will appear before parliament's law reform committee on Monday to put his case, adding his voice to the growing number of experts who have also warned that the law was designed to prevent paedophiles from associating with children, not punish young people who may simply be naive or sexually curious.
Attorney-General Robert Clark ordered the inquiry last year, after The Sunday Age had revealed that at least two teenagers in recent years had been charged with pornography and placed on the register.
In one case, an 18-year-old boy was sent six unsolicited images of near-naked girls aged 15 to 18 - from a female friend - which police later found on his computer while investigating a separate matter.
In another case, a 17-year-old boy and his girlfriend of the same age filmed themselves having sex. When they broke up after he turned 18, he emailed images from the video to his friends - later admitting it was ''so stupid'' - and was charged with making and transmitting child porn.
The court's submission urges a system of ''graduated responses'' to sexting behaviour depending on the degree of criminality involved. This could mean cautioning or diversion in most cases, but for matters that are sufficiently serious, a specific sexting offence should be created, Judge Grant said.
The court has also called for greater authority to destroy sexting material, for instance, to stop young people from passing on naked images of an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.