Every year, hundreds of young people are accused of producing or sharing child pornography. The SEXTO project was launched in 2016 in order to prevent this phenomenon, and quickly and effectively counter it. Seven years on, has the initiative produced results?
Louis-David Bénard, criminal and penal prosecutor at the Bureau des affaires de la jeunesse (youth bureau), was recently interviewed on Angle Droit, a French-language radio show hosted by Éducaloi. During his interview, Me Bénard asserted that the SEXTO project has, in fact, produced results. Beyond informing minors that they’re not allowed to have such images in their possession, this project has made it possible to “filter files,” allowing investigators to focus on cases requiring “significant police intervention.”
The lawyer adds that the repeat offence rate is now lower, since teenagers are promptly contacted and confronted following a report. School staff also feel more confident to intervene when a sexting situation is reported within their establishment, he observes.
A different approach
Rehabilitation and social reintegration are crucial in trials involving accused minors, which is why the youth bureau works closely with defence lawyers.
“The objectives of criminal justice for teenagers are quite different from those for adults, particularly in terms of the objectives of sentences,” explains Me Bénard.
The aim of this collaboration with defence lawyers is to ensure that young people receive the punishment best suited to their profile, so that they not only answer for their actions, but also become good citizens.
An offence that’s easy to commit
If there are nearly 300 charges of child pornography laid each year against young people, particularly for the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, it’s perhaps because of “how easy it is to access new technologies,” says Me Bénard.
It’s rare these days for teenagers not to have their own cell phone, allowing instant production and sharing of photos and videos. “Things happen really fast on social media. Everything is interconnected. Young people are exposed to it.”
Moreover, there are many reasons why young people commit such offences. “It could be curiosity or sexual excitement. It could be to please the other person, in order to seduce them,” says the lawyer.
Revenge is also a motive. “The reasons that motivate the sharing of intimate images influence us as prosecutors and how we approach a case.”
How does the SEXTO project work?
Distributed as an intervention kit, the SEXTO project is intended for high school staff, and helps raise awareness among offenders and victims alike. This project supports the action plan to prevent and stop bullying and violence in schools.
“This allows staff to intervene quickly and effectively when a sexting situation is reported,” says Me Bénard. Once the intervention is complete, the police are contacted. “The police will submit everything to the prosecutors so that they can quickly position themselves. Is this case going to require a meeting to educate and raise awareness on the issue, or will it be treated as a malicious act?”
Depending on how widely the images were shared, the nature of these images, and the people who had access to them, the youth bureau decides whether or not to recommend that the police go ahead with a traditional investigation.
Since January 2020, more than 400 Sûreté du Québec police officers have attended the SEXTO project’s training courses, according to data collected by the Journal de Montréal.
Did you know? The SEXTO project began as an initiative of the Saint-Jérôme police department in 2016 to curb the rising number of child pornography cases among teenagers. Since then, the SEXTO project has been implemented in various Quebec municipalities and will be rolled out in Montreal in 2024–2025.