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Sexting could land you in a whole lot of trouble, but new laws are flawed

Damages awarded in 'sexting' for the first time. Could this open a gateway to false and damaging claims?

Damages have been awarded in a ‘sexting’ case for the first time. Anyone who is manipulated into sending or receiving explicit content and as a result suffers psychological harm can now make a claim. Lawyer, David McClenaghan says “the scale of these cases is potentially enormous”.

A woman – who will remain unnamed for legal reasons – was encouraged to send naked photographs to her teacher at New School, a private school in Kent. She was just 16 at the time. The trauma of the events meant she had to sit an extra year at school, and even now her relationships are affected by what happened. The woman has received £25,000 in damages and the teacher involved will have to serve community service. McClenaghan has said the prevalence of mobile apps such as Snapchat will result in many more pay outs.

With the growth and development of mobile apps and technology, ‘sexting’ has become a modern phenomenon, particularly among young people. ‘Sexting’ is generally an umbrella term for sending and receiving sexually explicit content, which includes images, text and video.

It is fair to say most teenagers have ‘sexted’, whether the content is simply a flirty, slightly provocative message or an explicit video. It could be argued that ‘sexting’ is becoming a significant part of young people’s sexual socialisation. But pre-eighteen years old, there is obviously major cause for concern regarding this behaviour, but here I will focus on eighteen year-olds and above.

Sharing explicit images of another person, online or offline, without their consent, has already been made a criminal act recently under an amendment in the Criminal Courts and Justice Bill.

The laws are constantly changing in regards to what is acceptable on the internet and what the repercussions should be. Online platforms and applications are constantly developing and changing. The real issue here is that people may be completely innocently sending provocative messages to a person of interest, not fully knowing the potential consequences. How is a person to know if the person on the other end of the phone is going to experience psychological harm at the time? More worryingly, how are they to know what will effect that person in the long term? It is not something that can be easily predicted, and what is there to stop people making claims in revenge? The scale of the possible impact of this development in law could be disastrous and extremely harmful.

The change in the law in terms of revenge porn and sharing content without the person’s consent is one that is simple and will certainly benefit and protect individuals. But the line between what would be deemed acceptable and unacceptable in damages cases for ‘sexting’ could be very narrow.

It is hard to distinguish whether ‘sexting’ is a good or bad thing, and either way it is not something that is going to stop anytime soon. If anything, it is becoming a social norm of our generation. In favour, ‘sexting’ arguably helps some people to be more relaxed talking about and participating in sex, and can also stop people going out looking for sex if they could get a quick fix with someone via their phone. In contrast, it can be argued that ‘sexting’ increases promiscuity and in turn the transmission of STIs.

It is so easy to send explicit photos, videos and messages with just a click of a button. Often, people do not put much thought or consideration into their actions. The sheer passivity of the youth of today towards such actions could be an issue in terms of the law. It is important that the law is made clear and young people are educated on such topics. but we should also consider that people send content to others of their own accord in the majority of cases. Appropriate measures will have to be taken to ensure that only people that are forced and bullied into sending images and experience psychological harm can make successful claims. I hope that this case has not opened up a doorway to made up or exaggerated claims that damage the reputations of those who innocently and mutually engage in ‘sexting’. It is a part of day-to-day life for many of the youth of today, and the law needs to adapt to support morality, but also be exercised in an ethical and honest way.

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