An advantage of being abroad is having access to a wide range of TV stations from Latin America. I’ve been watching news reports from the excellent TV Chile about the rise of sexting amongst urban teenagers in emerging economies. While it is difficult to filter out the moral panic prevalent in such stories, it seems clear that there is a problem at the heart of the report. Nowadays kids and teenagers carry a veritable multimedia lab in their pockets, which serves as constant temptation to snap, send and upload content, be it innocent or not.

I was interested by the comments made by the Chilean cyber-crimes division. They were complaining about the lack of legislation dealing with sexting, and commented that they were powerless to stop it from happening. What a curious comment! What type of legislation could ever be enacted that would be able to stifle such practices? Let’s analyse the phenomenon. If some teenager makes a video of themselves engaged in sexual poses, or takes a picture of a friend or partner, and then distributes it through SMS messaging, how would you define a criminal type? I can see there being a case for criminalising such practice if an adult was involved, but could there be legislation that criminalises the practice amongst teenagers? What would be the trigger anyway? Unauthorised uploading of content? Illegal copying? Obscene distribution?

If we consider this to be a growing problem, the solution may be to make sure that teenagers are aware that whatever they do in an electronic format is only one forward away from public distribution. Today’s youth is technologically sophisticated, but suffer from a complete lack of privacy awareness. Perhaps privacy is truly dead, one of those things that old-timers get worked-up about.

Gosh, writing this made me feel old and obsolete. I’ll just go and drink my prune juice.



Scott · July 10, 2009 at 1:16 pm

They would likely be done under child porn laws as the age of the person uploading and/or sharing/distributing is usually not qualified in most county's laws. Whilst it would seem silly to prosecute a youngster for posting such content, the fact remains if an 'adult' then viewed it many would be baying for blood.


Scott · July 10, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Just to clarify my first comment, I am not saying I think it is fine for teens to be posting this content, but I do think managing how you would deal with the act of doing so under the law is a tricky one due to the fact that in the eyes of the law it would be a potential child porn offence, which is unlikely to have even crossed the average teens mind.


Andres · July 10, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Thanks Scott, that's a good point. I guess that it would really depend on the age of the parties involved, and the local age of consent, as well as the circumstances. If a teenager films a friend naked, or engaging is sexual acts, then a child porn argument would definitely be stronger. However, something prevalent in sexting is that the teenagers take the pictures themselves, and send them to friends. This is more difficult to police in my opinion.


Darius · July 10, 2009 at 5:08 pm

In the Canadian case of R v Sharpe [2001] 1 SCR 45 the Supreme Court held that Canada's law on child pornography should be read as including an exception for any visual recording, created by or depicting the accused, provided it does not depict unlawful sexual activity and is held by the accused exclusively for private use.


Carlos Riquelme · July 11, 2009 at 9:52 pm

The main problem is distribution. Teens are entitled to explore sexuality and technology in equal measures. It's perfectly ok for them to create and share such content among the people they trust. Why? Because it's inevitable. No law could ever stop teens and pre-teens to use the technology available to them. The problem arises when the content they create, pictures or videos, is illegaly distributed (example: the violation of the privacy of the user by extracting the content from the phone or camera without their consent) and treated, by the distributor, as child porn.

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