Sexting awareness in SA is urgent, says CSIR expert

2013-10-15 11:37
Smartphones. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Smartphones. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - South African society as a whole is not fully aware of the how the law views the practice of sexting, a researcher has said.

Sexting, or the sending of sexually procative images, is defined in the Films and Publications Act (FPAct) and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (SOAct).

These laws comprehensively make it illegal to produce and share "any image, however created, or any description or representation of a person, real or simulated, who is depicted, made to appear, look like, represented or described or presented as being under the age of 18 years of an explicit or sexual nature, whether such image or description or presentation is intended to stimulate erotic or aesthetic feelings or not".

Despite this, society at large is unaware of the regulations.

"The act provides good guidelines as how child porn is defined. These are not known, since people (society) do not read these types of documents. A campaign should be made to make people aware of these Acts," Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) senior technology researcher Aubrey Labuschagne told News24.

Elevated risk

Sexting has been linked to cyber bullying and it is young people in particular who are at risk because of their age and naivety in some cases.

The fact that 92.2% of 12 to 24-year-olds have a mobile phone implies that there is an elevated risk of this group being exposed to some form of cyber bullying.

In some cases, the practice of sexting and cyber bullying has been shocking with real-world violence.

'According to reports, a teenage female learner, aged 16 years, was filmed while being raped, forced to perform oral sex and sexually violated by 'five schoolboys, aged between 15 and 17' and two adults," wrote Iyavar Chetty in the "Sexting" of revealing images of children is the distribution child pornography report.

Labuschagne said that perpetrators in a case such as the one described should face the law in terms of FPAct and SOAct.

"Using mobile devices is about understanding the capabilities of these devices and the threats associated with it. It is almost like a car, one earns trust to drive a car by being responsible. The same logic should be used with mobile devices. Teens should earn trust and show responsibility for using mobile devices," he said.


Sexting is becoming a problem in developed countries where access to mobile smart devices and lower data cost can play a role in facilitating the practice.

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch found that more than half of teens have been asked to send a nude photo of themselves to someone and around 30% complied.

The images could be used to blackmail the sender into sending more as well as humiliating the victim.

"As an example, if a picture of a teen is taken when they are drunk at a party, the criminal could then use this as the first step to obtain more sensitive content. They can threaten to send these images to parents or school. If the teens are susceptible to influence they might comply to send more provocative images," Labuschagne explained.

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Read more on:    csir  |  online privacy  |  cybercrime

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