WA children's advocate Donna Cross has warned teenagers could be limiting their job prospects if there are intimate or revealing photographs of them on the internet.

She said young people should regularly check their "digital reputation" across websites and social media, not just Google.

Professor Cross, who is WA's Australian of the Year and is based at Edith Cowan University's Child Health Promotion Research Centre, was speaking at a WA Health Department forum on sexting. The forum was at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research as part of national Child Protection Week.

She said when considering someone for a job she always checked their "online reputation" and it was a concern to see what was posted on some sites.

"It's a major concern passing on an image," she said. "It's becoming viral as they say, and it keeps coming back.

"Perhaps it's an image of someone in bathers and suddenly it's on sites unknown to them and it affects their digital reputation. And that seems to be a powerful message for girls more than for boys."

Professor Cross said some people used images to "out" friends, and others faced peer pressure to join in. But it posed "huge personal risks" to children and teenagers, leading to bullying, alienation and anxiety issues.

Barrister Victoria Williams, from the WA Law Reform Commission, told the forum there was no clear evidence about how often teenagers used sexting.

Though there were no specific offences for sexting, action involving someone under 16 was considered child exploitation under WA law.

Juveniles faced mandatory sex offender registration for up to seven years, but the commission had recommended the State Government allow courts discretion to stop the register being "watered down" by low-risk offenders.

Ms Williams said there were concerns young people could be stigmatised by being put on a register that most people associated with paedophiles and sexual perverts.

Jonathon O'Neill, an education and training officer with the Sexual Assault Resource Centre, said existing laws seemed to be a deterrent for many young people.

"When they hear about it the fear in their eyes is palpable," he said.

"A potential criminal record can affect jobs and even travel if you're not able to get a visa," Mr O'Neill said.

The West Australian

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