Sexting: Privacy and the law

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Before sending a sext, these are the legal issues you need to be aware of.

Privacy and technology

It’s impossible to have complete control over photos/videos. Even if you pay your own phone bill and have your own computer, there’s no guarantee photos/videos will stay private.

Apps that promise photos/videos will disappear in seconds can feel less risky, but it’s still very easy to take a screenshot.

It’s also important to be aware of the storage and privacy settings on your devices. For example, your phone may automatically back up files to cloud storage.

Remember, if you have questions about sexting you can always call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

Sexting and the law

Sharing a sexual photo/video without a person’s consent could be illegal. The law is there to protect people and stop this from happening.

In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada decided young people have a right to express themselves sexually by creating and sharing sexual images of themselves if:

  • the image is sent voluntarily between consenting individuals who are close in age
  • the image doesn’t depict abuse or assault
  • the image stays private (isn’t posted or shared)

The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act (Bill C-13) changed the way sharing sexual images and video without consent is prosecuted under the Criminal Code of Canada. It also gives the police more power to access someone’s online information.

Legal definitions related to sexting include:

  • Child pornography: it’s illegal to send sexual photos/videos of anyone who is, or appears to be, under 18. This includes taking and sending sexual photos/videos of yourself if you’re under 18.
  • Possession: it’s illegal to save child pornography on a phone, computer, cloud storage or any other kind of device.
  • Distribution: it’s illegal to sell or share child pornography. This includes:
    • showing it to people on your phone or computer
    • forwarding it through text or email
    • posting it on the Internet

Talking to a lawyer

When you tell a lawyer you need advice, they have to keep everything you say private. This is called solicitor-client privilege and generally includes things another professional may have an obligation to report. You can get advice from a lawyer on things you may not feel comfortable discussing with anyone else.

How to find a lawyer

Kids Help Phone has contact information for legal resources across Canada. You can also visit Resources Around Me to find legal services in your community.

If you need to involve the law

Here are some things to remember if you need to get the law involved:

  • Ask for help: you can speak to a lawyer in order to understand exactly what’s happening and what you can do.
  • Take care of yourself: it’s important to get the help and support you need to make your situation better.
  • Don’t retaliate: don’t try to get back at someone, even if you think the law is on your side.
  • Be patient: not every solution involving the law is quick. It may be a long time before a decision is made.
  • It’s your decision: a lawyer can help you understand your situation and advise you on what to do next, but in the end, it’s up to you.