By Darren Evans

The successful prosecution of a teenage girl in Canada for possessing and distributing child pornography has again highlighted the dangers of “sexting” for school-age children.

The boyfriend of the girl, who was 16 at the time, showed her pictures of his ex-girlfriend. She then sent them to a friend to “humiliate and intimidate” her victim, the court heard.

Although the victim was a similar age to the accused, the images were deemed to be child pornography.

The case again brings into sharp focus the global phenomenon of “sexting” – the sending of sexually explicit images between mobile phones – among teenagers.

Research has show that the practice can have a devastating impact on the young people involved, especially if their pictures go viral.

In some countries the practice falls into a legal grey area. Although in many cases the parties involved may be consenting, because the images are of minors they fall foul of strict anti child pornography laws.

The messages may also constitute sexual harassment if both parties have not consented.

Child pornography charges relating to sexting have been brought against teenagers in the past, including in the US and Australia, but this is the first case of its kind in Canada.

The judge in the case, which was heard in Victoria, British Columbia, told reporters that the messages were “mean, rude and antagonistic”, and fell within the definition of child pornography.

Crown prosecutor Chandra Fisher said the case was unusual and could set a precedent.

“Always be careful of what you allow of pictures to be taken, what you send to whom,” she said. “[Teenagers] need to be careful what they send, what they send to each other and where it might end up.”

Christopher Mackie, the lawyer representing the teenager, said he would challenge the verdict.

He told the court that it was unconstitutional to charge teenagers who sext with child-pornography offences because it was legal for adults to text “erotic images”.

“These child pornography laws were intended to protect children, not to persecute them”, he told reporters.

Questions for debate and discussion

  1. What precautions should you take when sharing images with friends and online?
  2. What are the benefits of social media and mobile technology when used safely?
  3. Why does the lawyer Christopher Mackie want to challenge the verdict? Do you think he is right?
  4. Can you think of any reasons why this conviction would be a positive thing? Who will benefit, if anyone?

Relevant resources 

Sexting
This presentation to highlight the consequences of sexting includes a video and questions to help teenagers reflect on the effects of sending explicit images. 

Digital rights
These resources from BeatBullying give teachers and pupils the opportunity to talk about the digital rights of young people.

Young people and social networking sites
Check out Childnet International's guide for teachers, parents and carers on how to talk to young people about staying safe on social sites. 

Internet safety display
A handy list of rules on how children and young people can protect their privacy and stay safe online.

Netiquette
This short and simple summary of dos and don’ts for online behaviour and etiquette covers a wide range of issues from cyberbullying to copyright.