In this post we discuss the Online Safeguarding Challenges ‘Sexting’ according to Wikipedia Sexting is…..”sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or videos, … or sending a text possibly with images”. To be clear this is an adult description. Talk to young people and they have a number of names for it, the most common being ‘nudes’, ‘nude selfies’ and ‘dick pics’.

Sexting is not a new phenomenon and indeed can go back well over a decade but has perhaps solidified with the advent of smart phones and easy accessibility to cameras.

A recent study from Internet Matters and Youthworks in their 2020 Cybersurvey stated the following;

‘At age 15 and over, 17% of teens are sharing explicit images, videos or livestreaming. This accelerates quickly in the mid-teens, from 4% at age of 13 to 7% at age of 14. The rate then more than doubles between ages 14 & the 15 and over age group, when around 1 in 6 have sent an image of themselves to someone else.’

Sexting is not an unknown to teenagers and in general terms most have not sent someone an intimate image. They are however often likely to know someone who has, or at least they are familiar with the practice.

Adult attitudes have often been garnered from our own experiences and culture, shock has been at the forefront, although time may have diminished this somewhat amongst younger adults. The question arises then, what if for example a couple of 14 year olds exchange sexual images whilst in a relationship via mobile phones? If the relationship holds and is respectful and the images stay on the phones and go no further should adults become involved? A sensitive subject. Often things come to light only when it goes wrong and the image(s) is shared. The issue can become even worse when the sharing goes online and it becomes about scalability, durability and audience (D. Boyd). These incidents can have a huge impact on the emotions, sociality and self-image of a child.

Technically in sharing image they both commit offences under the Protection of Children Act 1978 but is punishing young people and providing them with a potential criminal record the way to deal with sexual experimentation? Clearly not and Police forces have long recognised that there is a child protection issue here and CPS are clear they will not be prosecuted (except in certain circumstances) if doing so is not in the public interest and it rarely is. In fact, in most cases where things go wrong the children will be treated as victims.


How are schools dealing with incidents of sexting? There is now robust advice out there and Online Safeguarding Challenges ‘Sexting’ advice documents have been prepared by the National Police Chiefs Council and the United Kingdom Council for Internet Safety helping both Police officers and Schools to cope with incidents in a sensible, proportionate, and sensitive manner.

Of course, we need to be concerned when a young person reports a sexting incident. It is important that the right questions are asked in a sensitive manner by someone with the right skills like a DSL. Understanding that not every incident is straightforward and being clear that there are no other circumstances involved, eg: adult involvement, previous incidents, other vulnerabilities, or graphic sexual images that would escalate concerns or indicate a criminality is vital.

If you would like to discuss this further or know more about sexting and many other issues young people and adult face in the online safeguarding world, please contact Safe Associates here for further information.

Alan Earl – SAFE Ltd.

11th February 2021