The Victorian parliament is investigating the prevalence of sexting and the adequacy of laws to deal with the issue.

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Sexts are considered child pornography if depicting someone aged under 18, even if the person pictured took the images themselves and willingly sent it to others, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Anyone over 18 found guilty of possessing child pornography must be placed on the sex offenders register.

The parliamentary inquiry was told on Tuesday there are concerns that people who may have created and sent images during consenting adolescent relationships were at risk of being placed on the register when its real intent was to monitor pedophiles.

Leading Senior Constable Joe Grbac, a member of the Macedon Ranges Local Safety Committee, said there should be a less serious offence covering consensual sexting between minors, rather than child pornography.

“That’s what we’re left with at the moment, if you like, is that pedophile legislation intent and that’s pretty heavy for kids just playing doctors and nurses,” he told the inquiry.

The Macedon Ranges local committee – comprising council, police and community health representatives – tackled the issue of sexting through measures such as school education campaigns after a girl and boy consensually exchanged a sex video via mobile phone.

The girl involved then told another boy about the video at a party, and the boy then stole it and sent it to other boys.

After a parent reported the matter to police, seven boys were cautioned and one was charged with possession of child pornography, as he had received a previous caution for similar behaviour.

The Victorian Privacy Commissioner’s youth advisory group ran an online survey into sexting and received more than 1000 responses, almost half of which were from children aged 10 to 15.

Of respondents in that age bracket, one in five had received a sext, while almost as many had sent one.

One respondent said: “It’s wrong, I feel violated even if it’s not me.

“Young girls are being pressured into this … it makes the boys feel like they have power over us – it scares me.”

More than 40 per cent of respondents said they did not know sending sexts depicting people under 18 was illegal.

The Law Reform Committee is due to table its report on sexting to parliament by the end of the year.