A new free smartphone application to help young people better understand laws around sexting, cyberbullying and the age of consent has been launched in Melbourne.
Developed by Victorian Legal Aid, with the help from interstate legal aid commissions, the “Below the Belt: Sex, Selfies and Cyberbullying” app will provide legal information for every state and territory.
The Director of Civil Justice, Access and Equality at Victoria Legal Aid Kristen Hilton says it will be useful for young people, teachers and parents.
“We know these are issues, consent issues, sexting and cyber-bullying particularly in the last few years, that people are really interested in,” Ms Hilton said.
“So we thought it was really important that we present that information in an engaging and interactive way in which young people are going to use it.”
There have been growing concerns about the lack of understanding many teenagers have when it comes to sending and receiving sexual photographs.
Under current laws, young people can be charged with child pornography offences and placed on the Sex Offenders Register even if the act was consented to.
Ms Hilton says people regularly come to Victoria Legal Aid for help about laws relating to sex.
“We get inquiries from parents, schools and young people about when it’s lawful to send a particular type of selfie or sext. We also get inquiries about when people are able to have sex lawfully,” she said.
“We’re trying to provide clear information about how those laws work so they can make better decisions.
“We’ve seen as well with the rise in social media and the different ways children and young people communicate these days people are more likely to do things online, leave a digital footprint which may have negative consequences for them down the track.”
Victorian MP Clem Newton-Brown chaired the state Parliament Law Reform Committee Inquiry into Sexting, which submitted its final recommendations earlier this year.
He believes changes need to be made, but until then teenagers need to understand existing laws.
“The crimes act was written at a time when kids didn’t have phones that were internet enabled, they didn’t have the capacity to send photos and have them rapidly disseminated across the globe, so now the law needs to catch up,” Mr Newton-Brown said.
“This new app will assist kids in realising that the activity they’re engaging in is potentially illegal.”
Chilli Perry is a Year 10 student at Fitzroy High School and says the information is good to know, but doubts it will affect the choices teenagers make.
“I think it’s a lot more handy for parents, who might be concerned about what their children are up to,” she said.
“But for the cyber-bullying side of it I think it’s a really handy thing if you need help, or just to know what your rights are in receiving or sending.
“I don’t necessarily think it will stop them from doing it. I think it will give them more knowledge and maybe think ‘OK I’m doing this, now I know the consequences of what I’m doing.”
The app can only be used on android devices, but Ms Hilton says if the app proves popular they hope to make it available on other products, like iPhones.