INVESTIGATING offences relating to sexting is becoming an all too familiar reality for Gladstone's Child Protection Investigation Unit.
The unit, currently investigating a case where 20 girls aged 12 and 13 from Toolooa State High School sent graphic images of themselves to a Year 8 boy, said the ease with which pictures could be sent meant the consequences were often immeasurable.
Sexting is defined as sending nude or semi-nude photos by mobile phone, or posting sexual images on social networking sites.
Police say the greatest consequence lost on many victims with regard to sexting is that any image forwarded means the sender loses complete control of who may view the image next.
Even if the first recipient was a trusted person at the time, it doesn't mean the image won't be forwarded onto others in the future.
Senior Constable David Lemalu, a school-based police officer at Toolooa and Gladstone state high schools, said there seemed to be a sense of ambivalence amongst young people about whether sexting was right or not.
This was characterised by the victim often saying no initially because they thought it wasn't right, then changing their minds.
"In many instances the victims didn't feel pressured, but instead made comments like, 'I really liked them', 'We were going out and it felt right then' and 'It wasn't that big a deal, we were going out'," Sen Const Lemalu said.
"This to me shows ignorance of the consequences or complete disregard for them.
"What young people fail to understand is that the potential consequences are far-reaching - the image has the potential to travel around their school, community, the world.
"The victims become targets for ridicule and bullying, sexual harassment and abuse, which may in turn lead to poor self-esteem and self-image, isolating behaviours, truancy or avoidance of school, eating disorders and self-harm."
For the person forwarding or taking the images, sexting is a criminal activity.
Taking a sexual image of a minor under the age of 16 and sending it is classed as creating, possessing and distributing child exploitation material, even if the person committing the offence is a child.
In cases where the offender is also the victim, police take all necessary and reasonable steps to investigate, and all victims and offenders are dealt with accordingly.
Police say the greatest safeguard against sexting is parent education and support for young people.
Parents can help their children by:
- Talking through the consequences of sexting, both posing for or taking selfies and storing or sending them.
- Making them fully aware that once an image is sent, it can't be retrieved, and once an image is posted online, they will never be able to fully delete it.
- Regularly viewing or discussing with their child the various sites and contacts being viewed or contact made.