What is sexting?

Sexting [verb] = sending sexually explicit content

The term ‘sexting’ describes the use of technology to share intimate images of yourself. It’s a word-mix of sex and texting. The content can vary, from text messages to images of partial nudity to sexual images or videos.

Sexting often happens when a young person’s judgment has been clouded, e.g by pressure from someone else, or from the use of alcohol or drugs. This content is usually created to be sent to a partner, but can be between groups or even as a dare. Such images can be created using a range of mobile devices, technologies and online spaces. Photos and videos are often created via webcam or Smartphone camera, and are shared on social networking sites such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, messaging services such as Whatsapp, and video sharing sites such as YouTube. 

Is it legal? Sexting and the Law

If a young person under the age of 18 engages in sexting by creating an explicit photo or video of themselvesthen they have potenitally created an indecent image of a child. By sending this content on to another person, they have distributed an indecent image of a child. By receiving content of this kind from another young person, they are then in possession of an indecent image of a child. 

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 risk. The police’s priority is those who profit from sexual images. Repeat offenders and more extreme cases are reviewed differently, still with a focus on avoiding prosecution unless absolutely necessary.

If someone is pressurising your child to send them a sexting image, inform the police. Not only is it illegal, but it may prevent them from doing it to someone else too. 


How can I prevent this from happening?

  1. 'Think before you post.' Talking to your child about online privacy, and sharing content, is absolutely vital. Once any image has been sent, it is then out of your control. Even if you think you can trust the person that you've sent it to, it could be shared with others or posted elsewhere online. If you wouldn't be happy with your content being shared publicly, then the internet is not the right place for it. 
  2. Ensure that your child knows the law. Sharing intimate images over electronic devices is never a good idea, the risks are high. Sexting images break the law, for those that send, receive and share them further. 
  3. Discuss peer pressure. The creation of sexting content is quite often due to pressure from a partner or group. Discussing peer pressure, and self esteem, with your child is a positive way to encourage them to take responsibility for their own actions and resist pressure from others to engage in activities they are uncomfortable with, or know to be against the law.
  4. Communication is key. If you and your child can have an ongoing open dialogue about their life online, whilst still allowing them the level of privacy with which you are comfortable, they will be more likely to seek advice from you if they find themselves in a difficult situation.  


It’s happened, what should my child and I do next?

 Firstly, try not to panic. There are steps that can be taken to minimise the effects of the incident. 

  1. Support your child. It will have been a very difficult and embarrassing conversation for them to have had with you, and they need your help and compassion.
  2. Discover the facts. Your child needs to be completely honest about what has happened. Who has the image been sent to, where has it been shared?
  3. Act fast. The quicker you can deal with the situation, the more control you have over the distribution of the content.


 How do I take control of the situation?

  1. If the image was posted by your child on a social networking site, remove it immediately.
  2. If it was sent to someone else, contact that person as soon as you can and ask them to delete it, to prevent it from going any further. 
  3. If you think that the image has been shared more widely, seek additional support. Your child’s friends may be able to let you know where they have seen the image and who has shared it. Involving school staff may also be necessary in order to help deal with those who have shared the image. Young people are often not aware of the law regarding sexting, and schools can reinforce this message to their pupils.
  4. To check the other places that the image might be, search online for your child’s name or username. Using inverted commas, and additional search words, such as “Firstname Surname” + Location, can improve accuracy of results.
  5. If the image has been shared on social networking sites, report it immediately using the site’s reporting tools because it breaks their terms and conditions.
  6. If the image has been shared more widely on websites then your child can report this to Chidline who will support them in getting this taken down and provide additional counselling to help them to more forward. 
  7. If you are concerned that your child has been groomed or coerced into sending the content, you need to make a report to CEOP.


Future steps:

  1. It’s never too late to tell someone. Maintain an ongoing open dialogue with your child about their internet use, so that they feel confident enough to come to you for help, especially if they are considering sending a sexting image.
  2. Keep an eye on your child. Sexting can result in emotional and psychological damage. The distribution of sexting content to others can cause distress and upset to the young person involved, especially if the content is distributed by someone they entrusted it to. The effects of others seeing this content can lead to negative comments and bullying, and may result in a young person losing confidence or self esteem, and in extreme cases can lead to depression and possible physical harm.
  3. Privacy settings audit: Help your child to adjust their privacy settings on all of the social media platforms, and online accounts, that they use. A recommended setting is friends only. This way your child can be sure that only those they really trust can see their online content. Content that was previously publicly available can often be made private retrospectively. Remember, a friend can still share your content to their wider circles, or even publicly, so it's essential to 'think before you post.' 


Online reputation checklist:

Help your child to increase their presence online in a constructive way, and create a positive online footprint. The more positive things you add online, the further down in the search results the unwanted content will be.

This can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • Create a publicly available fundraising page that supports a good cause.
  • Write an online blog with several entries.
  • Create an interesting YouTube channel to share great video content that you have created.
  • Interact with social media, websites and articles by leaving thoughtful comments.
  • Start your own website, with a newsletter that people can subscribe to.


Our Online Reputation Checklist is a useful poster resource for 11-18 year olds, to help manage and maintain their online reputation.