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Sexting and how to protect your child

GUEST BLOG: Solicitors Rebecca Sheriff and Emily McFadden examine the legal questions around sexting.

As use of mobiles and the internet has become more prevalent, incidents of sexting have increased. Sexting is the exchange of sexually explicit words or photos, by email, text message, WhatsApp, Snapchat or any online forum.

In a survey of secondary school pupils, 44,112 of them said they had been sexting, with more than 1 in 10 cases involving a non-school related adult.

The Law

Under current law, if someone takes, makes, possesses, shares or advertises an indecent photo, image or video of a child (under the age of 18) then they are committing an offence. Likewise, if someone allows indecent photos, images or videos of a child to be taken, then they too are breaking the law. The maximum sentence an offender could face is 10 years’ imprisonment under the Protection of Children Act 1978.

If a child is asked to take indecent photos by an adult, this constitutes a form of child abuse. Likewise if an adult encourages a child to participate in any sexualised messaging, even if indecent images are not involved, because this is a form of grooming.

A child willingly taking an indecent photo of themselves or another child is, strictly speaking, committing an offence. However, the Crown Prosecution Service will consider whether it is in the public interest to prosecute and the ages of both parties involved if the image was sent consensually. The police can also give a formal warning, which would remain on record.

What are the responsibilities of organisations that look after your child?

Any organisation or their member of staff working directly with children and young people has responsibilities towards those in their care to protect them. They need to be aware of and engage with the children to understand and take preventative action on the issue of sexting. Organisations most likely to be affected include schools, after school clubs and youth groups, both those run by local authorities and by voluntary organisations, such as the Scout Association and Brownies/Girl Guides, or sports clubs.

Having an up-to-date, regularly reviewed safeguarding policy, which all staff fully understand, can help. Any policy should include details of the law as it stands and explain the responsibility that they have to the young people in their care regarding sexting. It is also really important that children feel able to approach the staff and volunteers around them for help.

What to do if you discover sexting

If you discover that your child or a child in your care has been sending explicit pictures to someone, it is crucial that you stay calm so that they feel able to open up to you. There may be a number of reasons why they’ve sent an indecent image, so it is key that you listen to and support them.

  • Reassure the child that you will do what you can to help and that they are not alone;
  • Find out who they sent the image to and whether it has been shared. Ask the person to whom it was sent to delete it;
  • Keep a record of the mobile or online conversations as these may be needed as evidence in future;
  • If the image was shared online, you may be able to get it taken down by contacting the website concerned. Or contact the Internet Watch Foundationto have the image or video removed;
  • If the image or video was shared with an adult, report it immediately to CEOP, the national policing lead for online sexual exploitation;
  • If you are a parent, inform your child’s school, or the relevant organisation, of the incident so that they can offer support and advice to you and your child. They should follow the procedures and policies that they have in place already.
  • If you are a professional, follow your organisation’s procedures and policies, including notifying the child’s parents.

If you think a child is in immediate danger call the police at once.*

Rebecca Sheriff and Emily McFadden are solicitors at Bolt Burdon Kemp, a specialist firm that deals with child abuse compensation claims. 

Resources

Bolt Burdon Kemp’s Sexting Safeguarding Toolkit can be downloaded for use in schools, youth groups and at home, and includes further detailed information on sexting.

If your child is a victim of sexting, they may be able to make a claim for compensation against any adult involved. If the abuse took place while at school, at a youth club or anywhere else where adults are expected to be responsible for the care of that child, they could make a claim for compensation against that institution.

In 2015 Bolt Burdon Kemp secured £25,000 in compensation for a victim of sexting in a landmark case - ABC v West Heath 2000 (1) Whillock (2).

*Contact CEOP at www.ceop.police.uk/Ceop-Report or call Childline on 0800 1111.

 

Image: Maurizio Pesce, CC BY 2.0