Sexting best tackled outside courts: police

Victoria Police has told a parliamentary inquiry into sexting that it would prefer to use discretionary powers over having new laws introduced, to prevent minors fronting the Children's Court.

A senior police officer today told a parliamentary committee that the force found the best way of dealing with the sending of sexually explicit images via mobile phone or email was by doing everything it could to keep people aged under 18 out of the court system.

Neil Paterson, Victoria Police's acting commander of Intelligence and Covert Support Department, said police wanted to avoid dealing with children in the juvenile justice system, as that could be the start of more criminal behaviour.

"As soon as you start a juvenile in the justice streams, in the court process, it's often the start of their cycle of offending, so we try to divert everyone who's a juvenile away from the court process," he told the inquiry.

Children can be charged with pornography offences if they make, possess or send sexually explicit images, which can result in them being put on the sex offenders' registry.

However, the inquiry was told that despite an apparent increase in sexting by teenagers and the social pressure on them to do so, no juveniles had been placed on the sexual offenders' registry.

Mr Paterson said introducing "softer" offences to deal specifically with sexting cases could result in more children being charged and needing to front court, where police preferred to use their discretion when investigating.

The inquiry was also told there was a dearth of data in relation to how many children were affected by sexting, and that most young people who transmitted images were unaware their actions were illegal.

Shelley Walker, a researcher from the University of Melbourne, told the inquiry young people she had spoken to had told her children as young as 10 were sending explicit images.

She said that because of increased sexualisation, images that were considered "hardcore" 20 years ago were now considered "soft porn".

The committee will prepare a report and recommendations for Parliament once it has completed its inquiry.

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