The NSPCC defines ‘sexting’ as the exchange of self-generated sexually explicit images, through mobile picture messages or webcams over the internet.
Useful advice on all aspects of this issue can be found in the updated:
The above advice covers:
- Responding to disclosures
- Handling devices and imagery
- Risk assessing situations
- Involving other agencies, including escalation to the police and children’s social care
- Recording incidents
- Involving parents
- Preventative education
The advice refers throughout to ‘Youth produced sexual imagery’. The rationale for this as the most accurate description of the practice is because:
- ‘Youth produced’ includes young people sharing images that they, or another young person, have created of themselves.
- ‘Sexual’ is clearer than ‘indecent.’ A judgement of whether something is ‘decent’ is both a value judgement and dependent on context.
- ‘Imagery’ covers both still photos and moving videos (and this is what is meant by reference to imagery throughout the document).
The importance of a measured and proportionate approach to incidents of ‘sexting’ is emphasised in the advice;
Whilst young people creating and sharing sexual imagery can be very risky, it is often the result of young people’s natural curiosity about sex and their exploration of relationships. Often, young people need education, support or safeguarding, not criminalisation.
- Sexting is not harmless: Selfies: the naked truth
- It is illegal: Sex, the law and you
- The loss of control over the images and how they are shared can cause emotional distress
- Sexting can leave children and young people vulnerable to bullying, harmful contact and to blackmail: Cam sex
Potential School Action
- All staff should be aware of the school’s on-safety policy and understand the risks associated with sharing images online. Responses should be in accordance with the school’s policy and the statutory safeguarding duties of school staff as directed in keeping Children Safe in Education, DfE Sept 2016. Concerns should be discussed with the school’s designated safeguarding lead (DSL).
- Childnet has advice on handling disclosures and reporting incidents.
Schools may wish to provide parents/carers with information about online safety including understanding the law in relation to sharing images, how to talk to their children about keeping safe online, how to set up parental controls and where to access support. Workshops aimed at parents addressing how to keep their children safe may be helpful. Many schools share this information effectively on their school websites.
Curriculum (Universal provision through planned PSHE and Computing)
The PSHE Association’s ‘Frequently asked questions on pornography and sharing of sexual images in PSHE education’ states that:
‘Pupils should learn that it is both a gross violation and a very serious offence to take or share sexual images of another person without their consent. Depending on the circumstances, sharing such images can be an offence under various different pieces of legislation, including the Sexual Offences Act (2003), Malicious Communications Act (1988), Obscene Publications Act (1959) and Protection of Children Act (1978). Sharing sexual images without consent is a form of sexual assault – and if the victim is under 18 it could also be classed as sharing images of child sexual abuse, which could lead to the perpetrator being subject to the notification requirements under Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (commonly referred to as the Sex Offender Register).
Pupils should also learn that it is illegal to produce, possess or distribute an indecent image of a person under the age of 18 – even if it is a picture of themselves. These laws have been created to protect children and young people. It is therefore unlikely that the police would prosecute a young person for taking or sharing pictures of themselves, unless they were concerned that the images were being used to harass or coerce, or shared with intent to harm.’ (PSHE Association)
Infant and primary schools
Effective relationships and sex education within PSHE can help pupils keep themselves safe from harm through building their confidence to ask for help, learning that their body belongs to them and giving them the language to describe private parts of their body. The Sex Education Forum and PSHE Association have advice and guidance on effective teaching and learning in relationships and sex education and PSHE.
The Digiduck collection has been created to help parents and teachers educate children aged 3 – 7 about how to be a good friend online. ‘Digiduck’s Big Decision’ addresses decisions about sharing unkind photos.
‘I saw Alex’s Willy’ – NSPCC
Film and lesson plans aimed at younger children, key stages 1-2, which cover the importance of not sharing naked images. 5-11
Updates and changes
These pages are updated regularly and should be used as the main source of information. Printed versions should be used with care as they can become out of date.