Sexting is a recent phenomenon when people send sexually explicit texts, pictures, and videos via text messages. Even though it may be argued that sexting is a healthy way of expressing one’s sexuality and fulfilling one’s needs, the normalcy of the phenomenon might be compromised when minors are involved. Even if a person can legally partake in sexual activities, and he or she is underaged and distribute sexual pictures or videos, the latter is recognized as child pornography.
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Furthermore, such files can easily make their way to the Internet, where they can gain unwanted publicity. Teenagers who have a habit of sexting may fall victim at the hands of cyberbullies. This essay will examine the phenomenon of sexting in teenagers in the context of Canada from the legal and ethical standpoints. A brief overview of the current legislation will also be provided.
Canadian Legislation Regarding Child Pornography
In Canada, production, distribution, and possession of child pornography are forbidden. R. S. C. (Revised Statutes of Canada), 1985, c. C-46 outlines what precisely falls under the category of child pornography and what is considered making, distributing, possessing, and accessing such materials. Further, R. S. C. c. C-46 also contains information about aggravating and mitigating factors (Government of Canada, “Criminal Code…”).
According to the statute, child pornography is defined in a variety of ways which include a visual representation of an underage individual involved in sexual activity or a visual representation of an underage individual’s sexual organs. Any written, audio, or video materials advocating for sexual activities with minors are illegal. Any written material whose purpose is an explicit depiction of sexual relations with an underage person is also outlawed.
Making, printing, publishing, selling, and distributing child pornography in any other way is a criminal offense, and a person who is found guilty is liable to imprisonment of a minimum term of one year and a maximum term of fourteen years. Possessing child pornography is punishable with a prison sentence with a duration of one to ten years. If an individual is convicted of accessing child pornography, he or she may be sentenced to one to ten years in prison.
An aggravating factor would be the fact that a person committed a crime under R. S. C. c. C-46 to make a profit. A person’s uncertainty or lack of knowledge as to whether individuals depicted in illegal materials are underage does not mitigate the offense. However, possessing child pornography may not be a criminal offense if it can be proven that possession has a legitimate purpose such as the execution of justice, science, medicine, and so on.
Canadian Legislation Regarding Cyberbullying
Bullying is a broad set of harmful behaviors aimed at insulting, belittling, and humiliating an individual. Handling bullying legally may be somewhat challenging since the contents of some cases do not amount to a full-fledged criminal offense. Sometimes bullying behavior attains the level of criminal conduct, for instance, when a distribution of sexual materials has the purpose of hurting a person depicted in them. It is abundantly easy to see how the Internet has made bullying easier, and anonymity and the ability to spread data have facilitated the process for the offenders. In the Canadian Criminal Code, there is no specific statute that would address the issue of cyberbullying. Many other statutes may be applicable depending on the situation ( “Existing Criminal Code Responses…”). For instance, if someone repeatedly talks to a person depicted in sexual materials and makes threats, their behavior falls under R. S. C. c. C-46 264, “Criminal harassment”:
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- 2 b. “repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them”;
- 2 d. “engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family” (“Criminal Harassment”).
Other statutes include those related to uttering threats, intimidation, defamatory libel, counseling suicide, and child pornography offenses.
Sexting in Teenagers: Ethical Perspective and Legal Implications
Sexting among teenagers is a complex issue, and it suffices not only to examine it from the legal standpoint since some cases might be too nuanced for sweeping generalizations. There is a need for studying teenager sexuality in the modern context and a better understanding as to what it entails. In society, a somewhat black-and-white vision of teenagers engaging in sexual activities prevails. Adamant opponents advocate for abstinence, increased parental control, and harsher penalties for those who violate the current laws. On the other hand, supporters of sexual freedom may be too lenient in propagating teenagers’ right to self-expression.
In this day and age, it is imperative to find a middle ground. In this context, making compromise would mean accepting teenagers’ sexual needs and the new paradigm of sexual ethics. To uphold the latter, it is only reasonable to develop new norms concerning the distribution of sexual materials regarding consent.
A case of a 16-year-old girl from British Columbia showcases how law enforcement may seem to be a reasonable punitive measure but do not give an underage offender a chance to restore their life. In 2015, the said girl distributed nude pictures of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends out of jealousy and vengeance (Browne). Since the ex-girlfriend was also a minor, the girl committed the crime of distributing child pornography. The girl received a six-month conditional discharge, which although a great relief for her family, put a strain on her mental health and social life. Browne reasons that instead of accusing a child of distributing child pornography, the case should have been examined in the context of consent and non-consent.
A more controversial case took place in Minnesota, US. A 14-year-old girl was accused of making child pornography for sending a sexual picture of herself to her love interest who then, forwarded it to other people in their school (Nelson). It is easy to see how such cases should not be investigated under the statute on child pornography but handled privately in an open discussion about the ethics of sexting.
The issue of sexting in teenagers should be addressed on several levels, including federal, local, and personal. Many countries pass comprehensive legislation concerning child pornography and cyberbullying and make conversations about online behavior part of sexual education, and Canada is not an exception. In Canada, the distribution of child pornography via texting is investigated under R. S. C. c. C-46. If a case involves cyberbullying, it can be further examined under statutes on criminal harassment, uttering threats, intimidation, and so on. Despite Canada’s genuine efforts to enforce the law, sexting in teenagers might more nuanced as an issue. Alongside studying the phenomenon from a legal perspective, there must be an open dialogue about the ethics of sexual behavior in maturing individuals and the notion of consent.
Browne, Rachel. “Canada’s New Cyberbullying Law Is Targeting Teen Sexting Gone Awry.” VICE News, 2015. Web.
“Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46).” Government of Canada. 2019. Web.
Government of Canada. “Criminal Harassment.” Government of Canada. 2019. Web.
“Existing Criminal Code Responses to Cyberbullying.” Government of Canada. 2017. Web.
Nelson, Teresa. “Minnesota Prosecutor Charges Sexting Teenage Girl With Child Pornography.” ACLU. 2018. Web.