Maddalena Romano is a solicitor with many years’ experience working as a criminal lawyer. As a trained teacher, she is deeply passionate about the needs of young people and the capacity of education to influence the lives of people positively.
I couldn’t imagine a life without technology. In fact, separate me from my mobile phone and I’m pretty sure it won’t take long before the headaches and cold sweats (withdrawal symptoms) will start. Of course, while technology has enriched our lives it has not been without its drawbacks. The same technologies which can have the capacity to connect us meaningfully also have a dark side; the capacity to inflict injury and be the very vehicle for crime.
Young people, while adapting to and embracing such technologies so readily, are also particularly vulnerable to becoming victims or perpetrators of cyber-related crimes. In the past few years there has been significant media coverage related to the dangers of SEXting and the possible distribution of sensitive images via online networks. Schools especially, have been very proactive in addressing these concerns and educating young people about these risks.
Unfortunately the message doesn’t seem to be getting through.
Last week I was horrified to read that a website has emerged, possibly controlled offshore, which allows young people to target individuals or students collectively from named schools, posting sexually explicit images and statements about their victims, while encouraging users to celebrate such postings as ‘wins’. Of course the website, in targeting a teenage audience, is almost certain to cross the line into the realm of child pornography.
Child pornography, that is the dissemination and possession of images of children under the age of 18, is a serious crime that carries with it serious penalties.
What can be done? Clearly education is the best tool we have in fighting such a scourge. In the past our efforts have focussed mostly upon educating young people about the risks of SEXting and creating awareness about the longevity of online images. Most importantly, both males and females need to understand what the law has to say about this issue.
- Sharing or distributing explicit images of a sexual nature without a person’s explicit consent is a crime.
- Sharing or distributing explicit images of a sexual nature of a person under the age of 18 (with or without their consent) is a very serious crime that carries serious penalties.
- Possession (hard copy or digital) of sexually explicit images of a person under the age of 18 is a crime which also carries serious penalties.
- Penalties for the above offences can include imprisonment and, while being considered serious offences, can haunt offenders for the rest of their lives. As such, they will be required to disclose this on job applications and will be precluded from employment in many government departments and in any job that involves work with minors (teaching, social work). Potential employers are able to have access to this information via a criminal check (should this not be disclosed).
- Minors committing such offences will also carry this over to their criminal history once they are adults. See above.
While there are no simple answers to this issue, it is apparent that ultimately there exists a need for all Australians to talk frankly about the ways in which our attitudes actually enable such crimes to occur. It is only through the education and open discussion of this topic we can hope to reduce the occurrence of this in the teenage community and prevent young lives being destroyed (before they have even had a chance to really begin).