The human rights organisation Liberty Victoria has told the parliamentary inquiry into sexting that people in “age-appropriate relationships” who participate in sexting consensually should not be charged with a crime.

The submission said it wasn’t necessary to change the Victorian Crimes Act to prevent these people from being prosecuted. Liberty Victoria’s main concern is for young people who take part in sexting, with both parties consenting, risk being placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register.

Placing people on the register when they pose no threat to the public reduces its usefulness, the human rights advocacy body argues. Being placed on the register created problems for young people who pose no risk of committing a sexual offence, because they are prohibited from working in jobs involving children.

Under the current Sex Offender Registration Act, an 18-year-old taking sexual photos of his or her 17-year-old partner with their consent could be charged, despite the relationship being legal.

A single offence results in eight years on the register. A second offence extends that punishment to 15 years, and a third places a person on the register for life.

Two 20-year-old students, Madelaine Cantwell and Celeste Iuliano, agreed that charging persons involved in consensual sexting with a criminal offence was unnecessary. “As long as both parties consent to receiving sexually explicit messages and images, there is no harm,” Ms Iuliano said. Ms Cantwell said: “Being charged with a criminal offence is too harsh a measure.”

But they were equally agreed that sexting without consent or when images were used in a harassing manner was front. In that case, they said, the perpetrators should be disciplined, especially if they were engaged in child pornography.

“Child pornography is harmful to society and should be combated at all levels,” said Ms Iuliano. According to Ms Cantwell, disciplinary action was imperative where sexting involved minors or sexual exploitation.

Liberty Victoria’s submission accepted there were often reasonable grounds for limiting people’s rights when they were placed on the register. But, it argues, such limitations should be justified. Ms Cantwell said: “Being put on a sex offenders’ register should be a last resort.”

Under the current Act, producing and possessing child pornography are both punishable by imprisonment. Liberty Victoria believes the Act needs to be amended.