Sexual Exploitation and Intimate Images

Girl looking at phone with girls in the background

Sending a quick photo to a friend or a family member is something we do almost without thinking. We want to share a milestone, a photo of an awesome meal, a photo of something funny, or just a selfie to say hello.

Sometimes that photo can be revealing, even sexual in nature. The photo may make the sender feel empowered and attractive. It may be intended only for the person it is being sent to and for their eyes only.

It is important before sending or sharing any photo of someone else (or even with someone else in the image) to have their consent before doing so. 

The reality is any photos can be shared via social media or email without the subject's knowledge and consent. They can also be manipulated into something else. Such photos can cause harm or be used to coerce the subject into sending more photos or engage in other sexual activity under the threat of being further exploited (this is known as sextortion). We can also receive unsolicited photos, which can make the recipient feel uncomfortable, even harassed (this is known as cyberflashing). 

It’s often very difficult to tell at first if the person making contact initially has any illegal intent. It’s understandable to be flattered by the attention of someone you want to be intimate with. Sometimes it’s a person you know, sometimes it’s someone who preys on others. The scare tactics and the aggressive nature of those accused of sextortion are often very effective, and will no doubt cause great concern and anxiety for the victims and their families. The offender often will have the young person create new accounts, but later will threaten that adults or police will see they were a willing participant, or that they actively engaged in other activities. This can stop someone from coming forward to adults or authorities. Always ask for help and make the report, as many of these cases don’t go away, they often grow worse. There is good information and support from this link:

It’s understandable to be embarrassed if this happens and to not want others to know, so it’s important to seek help and guidance. 

How someone responds to these events may vary greatly from expressing little or no concern to isolating and withdrawing or, in serious cases, engaging in self-harming behaviours or suicide attempts. It is important to be supportive and encourage youth to seek help. There are places to go for help. [

Intimate images and the law

Sending intimate images between adults over the age of 18 is legal when each person voluntarily agrees to participate, and where no intimate image is shared without the person who is in the photo or in the video. 

In Canada, it is against the law to:

  • Show an image of someone privately doing a sexual act, who is naked, or who is exposing an intimate part of their body without the permission of the person who is in that image.
  • Threaten to share or show intimate images to others as a was of forcing the person in the image into doing something or not doing something. This is known as extortion.
  • Secretly take someone's photo, to video them, or to spy on them when they are exposing an intimate body part, they are naked, or are engaged in a sexual act. This is known as voyeurism.

Also, it is considered identity fraud if someone pretending to be you creates fake accounts of you by using your private photos. If you or your child find a fake account using your youth's photos, report it. 

Intimate images and youth under 18

When sexting and the sharing of intimate images is between youth under the age of 18, it is more complicated. 

A photo or video of someone under the age of 18 in which that youth is naked, semi-naked, or engaged in a sexual act is considered child pornography. It is against the law to posses, view, make, post, share, distribute, or send these photos or videos.

That means it is illegal to:

  • Take a photo or video of someone else under 18, showing sexual parts of their body intending to be sexually exciting, without their consent.
  • Share a photo or video of someone under 18, in which they show sexual parts of their body intending to be sexually exciting.

Talking with your kids

Creating a safe space where youth can talk about these issues is important. Listen without judgment, and let your kids know that they can come to you, share their concerns and ask questions. There are several resources available to help caregivers and educators begin the dialogue with youth on these issues and, as a result, help empower youth with the tools to ensure they use critical thinking before sending or sharing a sensitive image with others. 

Recommended resources on Sexual Exploitation and Intimate Images