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The PLEA: Hanging Out and Hooking Up

The PLEA: Hanging Out and Hooking Up

Case Study: The Bridgewater Dropbox Case

Sexting gone viral, child pornography & the publication of intimate images

In the fall of 2016, six teenage boys were in youth court in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia to face charges in relation to sharing numerous intimate images of girls under the age of 18. In most instances, the girls initially sent intimate images of themselves to their boyfriends. The boys, however, went on to share the images with one another through the file-sharing service Dropbox. According to police, this sharing went “beyond what the young women had agreed to.”

While young people sharing intimate images of themselves with a boyfriend or girlfriend might not immediately be associated with child pornography, under the law it could amount to it. Section 163.1 of the Criminal Code deals with child pornography.

Child Pornography

s.163.1 (1) In this section, “child pornography“ means
 (a) a photographic, film, video or other visual
 representation...
 (i) that shows or depicts a person 
 under the age of 18 engaged in 
 sexual activity,
 or
 (ii) the dominant characteristic of 
 which is the depiction, for a 
 sexual purpose, of a sexual organ
 or anal region of a person under 
 the age of 18

The punishment for child pornography offences, depending on the circumstances, can be as great as 14 years imprisonment for adults. Offenders are also placed on the National Sex Offender Registry.

Child pornography charges against minors – individuals under the age of 18 – have been rare in Canada. Typically, sexting does not amount to child pornography under the law. In part, this is due to a 2001 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that established the “intimate photo exception.” Under this exception, images of individuals under the age of 18 but over the age of consent are not considered child pornography provided that they are...

  • taken by one of the individuals involved
  • consensual
  • kept private, and
  • not depicting physical or sexual abuse

In recent years however, with the explosion of social media sites and the many options for file sharing, the misuse and mishandling of intimate images has become a hot topic. In the wake of disastrous cases, such as that of Rehtaeh Parsons*, there was much debate about sexting, revenge porn, cyber-bullying and related issues. In 2015, amidst mounting pressure for lawmakers to respond, the Criminal Code was amended to create a new offence for the non-consensual distribution of “intimate images.”

Intimate images are broadly defined as images where the individual is nude or semi-nude, or is engaged in explicit sexual activity and has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Unlike our child pornography laws, the age of the individual depicted doesn’t matter. What does matter is consent.

Publication, etc., of an intimate image without consent

162.1 (1) Everyone who knowingly publishes, 
 distributes, transmits, sells, 
 makes available or advertises an
 intimate image of a person knowing 
 that the person depicted in the 
 image did not give their consent 
 to that conduct, or being reckless
 as to whether or not that person 
 gave their consent to that 
 conduct, is guilty
 (a) of an indictable offence 
 and liable to imprisonment
 of a term of not more 
 than five years; or
 (b) of an offence punishable 
 on summary conviction.

The Bridgewater teens initially faced charges under our child pornography laws as well as charges under this newer section of the Criminal Code. The case was among the first to use the new law to address sharing of intimate images without consent. After numerous adjournments, due to the complexity of the electronic evidence and the number of individuals involved, the trial was scheduled for the fall of 2017. However, prior to trial the teens plead guilty to sharing intimate images and the child pornography charges were dropped. Speaking on behalf of the Crown, the prosecutor noted…

“The charge of intimate images was the one that best fit the circumstances of this case, so with that concession on the part of the defence we were satisfied with those guilty pleas.”

At sentencing, the judge noted that the experience of the victims and their families had been “complete hell” but also indicated that he was encouraged that those charged had expressed remorse and accepted responsibility for their actions. The teens received conditional discharges and were each required to perform 50 hours of community service, attend counselling, not access or store pornography and not have contact with the victims or their families. If they comply with the conditions their convictions will be erased after three years.

* At the age of 17, Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life after a “sexually degrading” intimate image of her was shared on social media. Friends and family have indicated that the teen was sexually assaulted, photographed and then harassed and humiliated relentlessly. Child pornography charges were eventually laid against two teens. While the teens were also initially charged with sexual assault, following Ms. Parsons’ death, the Crown decided they didn’t have enough evidence to proceed with those charges. To read Rehtaeh’s mother’s reaction to the Bridgewater case, search “Leah Parsons” + “They knew what they did was wrong.”

#ChangetheStory

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has developed a website designed to provide information for youth who have been affected by an intimate image being shared beyond what they had intended. The site provides detailed information to help youth get sexual pictures and videos removed from the internet and regain control over the situation. Whether the image is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google, a peer’s phone or elsewhere, there are tools and resources available now. The site also has answers to many frequently asked questions and tips for finding and providing help and support. Check it out at NeedHelpNow.ca.

Albert Camus' The Plague: The Learning Resource