Victoria’s acting Privacy Commissioner has called on State Parliament to look at urgent reform of the laws to do with sexting.

He branded them a “stain on our justice system” which led to young people being monitored as if they were “dangerous sex offenders”.

In a submission to the Victorian inquiry into sexting, Anthony Bendall called for greater discretion by judges when deciding whether people involved in sexting should be registered as sex offenders.

Mr Bendall said mandatory inclusion of minors “can have significant and deleterious effects on young Victorians” and put “an ongoing stain on their reputation” as well as “preventing them from working in certain areas”.

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Young individuals were not only harmed by the “social humiliation” of having their nude or semi-nude image distributed but were also “facing severe legal penalties”, he said in his submission.

A researcher for the submission, Megan Glyde, told Crikey, “I think that lots of teenagers would not be aware that taking a picture of themselves could put them in a position of producing child pornography.”

Mr Bendall told the committee: “In place is a potential 10-year imprisonment for any person who prints or makes child pornography. This statute does not contain an exception for taking one’s own image. If a person knowingly has child pornography they are guilty of an offence with up to five years’ imprisonment.”

The state’s Director of Privacy Awareness, David Taylor, told Crikey, “Mandatory inclusion of all offenders on the Sex Offenders’ Register doesn’t take into account the variety of circumstances in which child pornography occurs, such as sexting by minors. “The interpretation of the law should be left up to the judge’s discretion so that minors are not penalised by the laws that were created to protect them.”

Ms Glyde said “Parliament isn’t consciously making an effort to keep these laws in place, it’s just that it takes it takes the law a long time to catch up with new problems in society.”

Ignorance of the law appears widespread. Replies to a questionnaire produced by the Officer of the Privacy Commissioner’s youth advisory panel indicated that 41 per cent of respondents did not know whether sending or forwarding nude pictures was illegal.

Mr Taylor told Crikey, “In order to target the problem, young people need to be taught about the responsible use of technology and part of that is education on sexting. I think that there needs to be an education campaign that will make it clear that with sexting comes an array of penalties that could apply if one went to court.”