What is sexting?
Sexting [verb] = sending sexually explicit images of yourself or others.
The term ‘sexting’ describes the use of technology to share intimate or sexual photos or videos.
Young people may recognise the term 'sexting' but would not often use it to describe this behaviour. They would more likely use terms such as 'sending nudes' or 'sending pics.'
The term 'sexting' has come to include many different forms and can happen as part of an established or emerging relationship, as a dare, or through lack of understanding. The content is usually initially created to be sent to a particular individual, but can end up being shared more widely. For example, a person may send a nude image consensually, to someone they feel they can trust, but that person shares it on elsewhere without permission. It is often associated with teenagers, but can happen between younger children as well.
Not all incidents of sexting are consensual. It might be that a person is blackmailed or coerced into sending them, through emotional exploitation, or using the threat of 'leaking' private infomation or other photos to friends and family. It is also possible that a nude image appears amongst a peer group online, with the name of someone attached to it, but in fact is an image found online with no connection to the victim.
Such images can be created using a range of mobile devices, technologies and online spaces. Photos and videos are often created via phones, tablets or webcams, and may be shared via messaging apps or social media sites.
How can I talk to my child about the risks of sexting?
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Communication is key. Have regular conversations with your child about their online life, and show an interest in what they like and do online, whilst still allowing them the level of privacy you both are comfortable with. They will be more likely to seek advice from you if they know you take an interest and want to support them.
Reassure them it is never too late to tell someone if they are facing a difficult situation online, regardless of what they might have done, or how long it's been going on for.
You can find more specific advice and conversation starters per age group below.
How can sexting impact on my child's wellbeing?
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Engaging in sexting can impact on young people's emotional wellbeing, self-esteem and relationships. Young people often put a lot of trust in those who they share an intimate image with. If someone they send an image to disregards that trust and shares on the image further, without their consent, it can damage that relationship, and cause emotional distress to the original sender.
Images that are nude or nearly nude can have great currency amongst young people, particularly if they include their peers. This can cause the image to be re-shared a number of times. To know that peers, or a wider group of unknown others have seen a photo that was probably orginally destined for just one person, can also result in emotional upset and embarassment.
Does it break the law?
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Taking, sharing, and sending a sexually explicit photo or video of an under 18 year old breaks the Protection of Children Act 1978. Technically, this law is still broken even if a child takes a nude image of themself, howver, context is key in every situation.
The National Police Chiefs' Council of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated that young people engaging in sexting should be treated as victims in the first instance and not face prosecution as first time offenders, but the situation will be investigated to ensure the young people involved are not at further risk. The police’s priority is those who profit from sexual images and exploit children. Repeat offenders and more extreme cases are reviewed differently, still with a focus on avoiding prosecution unless absolutely necessary.
If someone is putting pressure on your child to send them a nude or nearly nude image, inform the police. Not only is it illegal, but it may prevent them from pressuring someone else too.
It's happened, what do we do next?
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Firstly, try not to panic. There are steps that can be taken to minimise the effects of the incident.
Speak wth your child about how and why the image was taken and shared. Try to remain calm and non-judgmental. They may have engaged in some risky behaviour that others have taken advantage of, but this does not mean that they hold full responsibiltiy for how that image has been shared.
See below for further positive steps you can take if a nude image of your child is shared online, and what you can do to minimise it's distribution.
Should we tell the school?
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Schools and colleges want to know about any experiences that negatively affect their pupils so they can effectively support them.
Schools and colleges should have safeguarding and child protection procedures in place to support and protect children either at risk of harm or experiencing harm. They can also raise concerns to relevant local authorities. For example, they should have existing procedures on when and how to pass on reports of illegal activity to the police or children's social care.
Ask to speak to your child’s Head of Year, Pastoral Team or Designated Safeguarding Lead to discuss anything that has happened online that has worried or upset your child.
Let your child know you are doing this, find out if they are worried about anything and involve them in this process where appropriate.
If made aware of nude images of under 13 year olds, schools must always refer these incidents to the police. For incidents involving nude images of 13-17 year olds, on some occasions schools can decide to manage these without police involvement. For example, if they were confident no adults were involved, no coercion or blackmail was involved, and the image was not shared on without consent. This decision would be made a full risk assessment by the school's safeguarding team.
Click below to find tailored advice for supporting children of different ages with the risks of sexting:
My child's nude image has been shared, what do I do next?
Click below to find advice on steps you can take if your child's nude image is shared online: