What is sexting?
The sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone.
When people talk about sexting, they usually refer to sending and receiving:
- naked pictures or ‘nudes’
- ‘underwear shots’
- sexual or ‘dirty pics’
- rude text messages or videos
‘Sexting’ is often seen as flirting by children and young people who feel that it’s a part of normal life.
Most young people do not see ‘sexting’ as a problem and are reluctant to talk to adults about it because they are afraid of being judged or having their phones taken away. Sending pictures and inappropriate content has become ”normal” teenage behaviour.
NOTE: Sexting is not just sharing a nude picture with someone the teen may know. If you are under 18 years of age, and you are sending nudes of yourself or of another you are actively engaging in the production and distributing of child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
Do kids in SA sext?¹
- Sexting: 69.5% of learners have taken a picture or video of themselves posing in a sexually suggestive way
- Sexting in SA occurs most in the 12 – 13 yr old age group
Who will see your ‘’sext’’?¹
17% of ‘’sexters’’ share the messages they receive with others
55% of those share them with more than one person.
¹ Stats from Bureau of Market Research, UNISA. Exposure to online sexual content among secondary learners in Gauteng. (Technical report). Research report no 479.
Why do people ”sext”?
- feel like ‘everyone else is doing it’ and want to fit in with friends – especially if they are boasting about sending or having photos on their mobile phone
- feel scared to be seen as a nerd, dork, frigid or shy and then go along with things you’re uncomfortable with
- feel under pressure to ‘’sext’’ as a way of ‘proving’ your sexuality
- feel harassed, threatened or blackmailed into sending pictures
- feel it’s easier just to ‘give in’ to somebody who keeps asking for things
- think you ‘owe’ your boyfriend or girlfriend or made to feel guilty if you don’t do what they ask you for
- be in love with the person and trust them completely and feel like it’s okay
- have a long-distance or online relationship with someone and want to have a sexual relationship with them
- feel proud of your body and want to share it with other people.
The dangers of sexting
Before you send a photo, give it some thought first.
What could happen to it? Once you press send, it is no longer in your control. It can be posted anywhere on the internet. It could end up on social networking sites or even porn sites. It can be used as revenge porn to hurt you if your relationship breaks up. Is it yours to share?
1) You could end up with a police caution
Sending a naked image of yourself via text message, or social media, when you’re below the age of 18 is technically illegal. It counts as an offence of distributing an indecent image of a child and is something you could receive a police caution for. You could even end up on the sex offenders register.
2) It’s worse to send a photo of a sexual act
Even though the age of sexual consent is 16, the age for distributing indecent images is 18. That means that a 17-year-old who can legally have sex cannot legally send a naked image.
It’s just as bad for a 15-year-old as a 17-year-old to engage in sexting. But, what’s worse for a 15-year-old is to send a photo showing them having sex. It’s illegal for anyone below the age of 16 to have sex, so if the photo shows this, it could lead to them having doubly bad consequences.
If a 17-year-old sent a ”sext” showing them having sex, they’d still be committing an offence by sending a naked image – but it wouldn’t break the law around consent. A 15-year-old doing the same would be committing two offences.
3) An unwanted ”sext” could be seen as a crime
Most people generally send ‘’sexts’’ and naked selfies with the certain knowledge that the recipient wants to see it – or at the very least will not be offended.
But if you do send a naked selfie to someone who is likely to be upset by it, that could be a crime under the Malicious Communications Act.
Sonn explains: “It’s an offence to send grossly offensive communications to someone else. It’s conceivable that a naked ”sext” could offend. If you send someone a picture of a penis, that might be taken offensively.”
It means that anyone partaking in the trend to send ‘d*** pics’ – or photographs of male genitalia – could be committing a crime, so long as they do it with the intention of causing harm, distress or anxiety to the recipient.
4) Forwarding them on breaches of civil law
It isn’t just sending ”sexts” that can be dangerous – it’s receiving them. If you pass a naked selfie on to someone else, whatever the context, it could lead to a breach of copyright law.
Bazaraa explains: “When you create a photo, as the creator you automatically become the owner of the copyright. Anyone who’s taking a risqué picture and sending it to their partner, they’ll own the copyright.”
If the receiver of the image then circulates it or posts it on a website, they’re then infringing that copyright.
5) You could become a victim of revenge porn
One serious risk of sending explicit pictures is that someone could pass them on – either by circulating them or posting them on a website. Once the pictures are there, it’s hard to get them taken down.
You could approach websites with claims of breaching harassment laws and copyright laws, as well as use the new criminal UK/USA law against revenge porn, but it can still be a challenge to have the photos removed permanently. South Africa does not have laws against revenge porn as such but you could however lay a charge of harassment.
6) You could break the privacy law
Another issue with forwarding images – even if it’s done without negative intentions to cause distress – could be that it breaches privacy.
So… can you sext safely?
These points make it clear – sexting can potentially be harmful to the sender and any recipients. If a recipient passes on the image, they could be breaking several civil laws. And if it’s done with negative intentions, it could even be classed as a criminal act.
For the sender of a ‘’sext’’, it’s worse. Not only are there risks that your photo could be spread to the wider world – whether as an act of revenge porn or unintentionally – but there are legal implications.
If you’re under 18, it is illegal to send a naked picture of yourself. It’s not illegal to be naked with someone, even if you’re 15, but you can’t send that picture. As strange as it seems, it’s the law and it’s best to know the risks now.
If your child has been affected by sexting
Stay calm and supportive
1. If your child has been sending explicit images or videos of themselves, they are likely to be anxious about talking to you. Where possible, give yourself time to process this information and remember your child will be closely watching your reactions.
2. Reassure your child that they are not alone.
3. Listen and offer support – if there is a problem your child will be feeling bad and needs your help, support and advice, not criticism.
4. Try not to shout or make your child feel like it’s their fault.
5. Don’t ask questions like “why have you done it” as this may stop your child from opening up to you.
6. Assure your child that you will do all you can to help.
Agree on your next steps
1. Ask them to who they initially sent the image or video and if they know if it’s been shared with anyone else.
2. Try to keep any evidence as this may be needed later.
3. If the image or video was shared over the web, contact the website to report it.
4. If the image or video was shared via a mobile phone, it may be helpful to contact the service provider to change your child’s phone number.
If your child was forced by another child into sending the image or video:
Contact your local Police. Officers may be able to prevent the image from being circulated and take the appropriate action to safeguard your child.
If your child shared the image or video willingly with another child:
1. Talk to your child about the risks of sexting.
2. Think about contacting the other child or their parents to discuss the situation and make sure that the image is not circulated.
If the image or video has been shared with an adult:
1. Report it to the FCS unit of your nearest SAPS. (FCS = Family violence, Child Protection & Sexual Offences )
2. For more support, see our advice on Grooming.
If your child believes the image or video has been circulated online (by a child or adult):
1. Contact Childline South Africa who may be able to make a report (with their consent) to the Internet Watch Foundation to get the image removed from the internet.
2. Regardless of the situation you should inform your child’s school. They can keep an eye on the situation and help stop images or videos from being circulated. The school can also offer support to your child and any other children that have been affected.
Get an explicit image removed
1. If a child has lost control of a sexual image, ask them to get in touch with Childline. Together, Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) will try to get the image removed.
2. Childline has also produced a free app for young people called Zipit, which is designed to provide them with witty images to send in response to a request for explicit images, and advice on how to stay safe.
Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones: A teenager’s online survival guide. Emma Sadleir · Dr Lizzie Harrison. October 2017. ISBN 9781776092758.