The internet has opened up many opportunities for young people to gain access to enormous amounts of content. This content can be educational, informative and fun. Unfortunately it has exposed young people to graphic imagery and adult material that would have been harder to stumble across in a pre-internet era.

Nobody’s immune from seeing sexual content online – whether they want to or not. Some sexual material is legal to look at if you’re over a certain age while other sexual content is illegal for anyone to view.

In New Zealand, sexual content is defined as either ‘objectionable’ or ‘restricted’ material under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993.

What is classified as ‘age-restricted’ and what is ‘objectionable’?

In most cases, age-restricted material is illegal to sell or give to a young person under the specified age (usually 18). Age restrictions are in place as that’s when society thinks young people are old enough to understand what’s happening and can make an informed choice about what they are looking at.

Objectionable material is illegal for anyone to possess or look at. It’s not the type of thing you might see on sale at the dairy. ‘Objectionable’ material includes content which involves children, animals, dead people, cruelty and severe violence.

What happens if you look at age restricted pornography?

Pornography is legal in New Zealand but if you’re a child looking at sexual material that is age restricted you may get in trouble if your parents or caregivers discover what you’ve been viewing.

Anybody who supplies, distributes, exhibits or displays a restricted publication to someone who does not meet the age criteria specified is committing an offence.

What happens if you look at objectionable material online?

No matter what age you are, viewing objectionable material is always illegal. If you come across objectionable material accidentally you should make a note of the URL, before leaving the site and then reporting it immediately. You can make an annoymous report of URL’s that contain objectionable images to NetSafe’s at netsafe.org.nz/report. Do not under any circumstance copy the material, download it, make a screenshot of it, or forward it onto anyone. Any of these actions could see you liable for prosecution.

Any time someone downloads objectionable material there is the potential for an offence to have been committed. The maximum penalty for someone ‘knowingly’ in possession of objectionable material is five years in prison.

Law enforcement officials will prosecute people actively trading (distributing or swapping) or who have collected a large amount of objectionable material. If you knowingly make a copy of an objectionable publication and/or supply objectionable material to another person, you may be sentenced to a fine of up to $200,000.

How to stop getting pornographic emails

If you’re getting these type of emails you’re probably receiving spam. There are a few things you can do:

  • Use spam filters to limit the delivery of this type of email.
  • Delete the emails when they arrive.
  • Don’t click on the links to unsubscribe or be removed from the mailing list as this may make the problem worse and add your email address to other distribution groups.

It’s important you don’t open emails advertising child sexual abuse material (Sometimes referred to as “child pornography”) or forward the material you receive, you should take note of the address or link and report it.

More advice and information: