Sexting is 'out of control,' student warns politicians
A fifth-year student has said 'sexting' is now a "casual thing" and is getting "out of control".
Lauren Reynolds, of Newbridge College, Co Kildare, was speaking at the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs where a number of second-level students offered their insights on internet safety.
She said few teenagers were aware that underage sexting was illegal and that they could be charged with child pornography offences.
"[Sexting] has become such a casual thing," she said.
"Very few teenagers are aware of the legalities surrounding nude images, which can be classified as child exploitation material.
"I personally believe this issue is becoming out of control and a popular trend due to the lack of education and information provided to young people.
"I believe we can help prevent and tackle this issue by raising awareness and being taught about the dangers of sexting in school."
In 2016, Ireland was found to have one of the highest rates of sexting among young people in Europe. At least a quarter of those surveyed at the time said they had sent sexually graphic messages.
Under the Child Trafficking and Child Pornography Act 1998, the law makes no allowances for underage sexting. Offenders can receive a maximum of 14 years in prison.
Cork barrister Brian Hallissey told the Irish Independent young people who 'sext' are liable for three offences: creating, possessing and distributing child pornography.
"Taking a selfie of someone as a minor would be creation and when you send it that's distribution and if you have it on your phone that's possession."
He added that under the current Act, even a 15-year-old can be prosecuted.
"In some states in America they allowed a relaxation of the rules, where you might have two teenagers [sexting one another].
"In Ireland, we haven't done anything yet. You can get up to 14 years for certain offences.
"Offenders are also automatically added to the Sex Offenders Register.
"I'm not aware of any prosecutions that have come before Irish courts yet, but currently there are no allowances under existing legislation. You would either be relying on a prosecutor not to prosecute or the discretion of the judge if it goes to court."