The Australian state of Victoria has implemented a law that makes it illegal to send lewd photographs to a partner without their consent via telephone or internet. The new “sexting” law may result in up to two years in prison for the offender.
Australia’s News reports that the law applies to anyone who “maliciously or deliberately spreads intimate images of another person – or threatens to do so.” The law is designed to protect individuals– particularly minors– who have shared compromising images of themselves to partners. Illegally distributing lewd photos of another person can result in a two-year prison sentence.
“Previously, the law provided only limited protection against malicious distribution of intimate images and this behaviour can cause considerable harm to victims, especially when images go viral,” said Australia’s attorney general, Robert Clark, in a statement announcing the new law.
Australian officials noted also that minors who break the law will not be subject to the same strict sentences as adults (ie a minor sending another photo of a minor would not be subject to the same child pornography laws). This is a deviation from the law it is meant to expand on, which would have, in some cases, forced the government to label sexting minors as registered sex offenders if their targets were also minors. Speaking to Australia’s ABC, cyber security expert Susan McLean explains: “The problem was [the previous law] was written to protect society and children from the traditional paedophile-type person… We don’t want judicial discretion when we’re dealing with paedophiles but we do need it when we’re dealing with children.”
The law, the Daily Mail clarifies, would not bar individuals from sending intimate photos of themselves; the photos must be of another person. The UK newspaper also notes that Victoria is not the only part of the country concerned with the rise in harassment via sexting. In Sydney, a pool cleaner named Peter Lewis Sheather was sentenced to three years in prison for harassing as many as eight women through texting, from sending lewd texts involving the use of the women’s private pools to sending unsolicited and unanswered short videos of his genitalia.
Sexting teens have become a major preoccupation of prosecutors everywhere, who must engage the difficulty of punishing such often-humiliating behavior with the fact that many of the perpetrators are minors. In Virginia, for example, the State Crime Commission announced last week that it would begin to review the current laws against the unwanted distribution of images of minors, so as to create a window for customizing punishment geared towards minors who break this crime. Like the old Australian law, Virginia’s laws punish minors for sexting the same way they would predatory behavior by an adult.