Sexting and Leaked Images: Support for Parents/Carers
What is Sexting?
Sexting is the activity of sending messages, images or videos that are about sex or contain nudity. ‘Sending nudes’ is sending someone naked or partially naked images or videos either of yourself or of someone else online.
Why do young people participate in sexting?
Sexting typically occurs within relationships (although not always). A young person may feel confident that they trust their partner when they engage in sexting or send images of themselves; however, a relationship breakdown or conflict may result in that trust being broken and images being shared out of negative feelings. Often, a young person may not understand the potential consequences of sexting. Sadly, sexting may also involve the sender being pressured or coerced by the receiver, for example, ‘If you truly love me, you’ll send me photos’.
What are the possible consequences of sexting?
- Bullying behaviour
The person who receives the messages could forward to friends who could then do the same without consent and this can lead to bullying behaviour in or out of school.
- Images/videos not received positively
The person who the sext was sent to may react badly due to the legal implications of this situation and the relationship could be negatively affected.
- Legal implications
Taking, sending or forwarding sexting content of anyone aged under 18 could result in child abuse imagery charges and is illegal under The Protection of Children Act 1978. It is essential that you never pass these images on if you receive them for any reason. You can learn more about the legal implications below.
‘As a parent/carer, how can I to support my child/ward who is involved in sexting?’
- Open communication and avoid blaming language
Thank your child/ward for telling you what has happened. It was likely very difficult for them to tell you, so whilst you may be upset to hear it, try to have a respectful conversation with your child/ward and avoid language that places blame on them. Many young people can be unaware what they are doing can have negative or legal consequences and may also have experienced peer pressure. Educating your child on healthy dynamics in relationships including sexting is essential.
- Help your child request that the image is deleted
Your child/ward could request that the person they sent the image to deletes it permanently because they are no longer comfortable with having shared it. Unfortunately, once an image or video has been shared, it can be difficult to ensure it is correctly deleted by another person(s).
- Report it on social media
Any images or videos online can and should be reported on social media, gaming and websites. When you make the report, inform the platform that the image/video is of a child who is under 18. Do not take screenshots which contain the image/video, as this is illegal – you can, however, screenshot other helpful information that does not include the image/video, for example, a username of the person who has posted them online. Be sure to also write down what has happened and record times/dates and the names of anyone who is involved.
- Report the incident
Call 101 to report a crime to the police. The police will be able to listen and support you and your child. Always call 999 if someone is in immediate danger.
You can also contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) which is the UK’s national crime agency tasked in bringing child sex offenders involved in child abuse materials to court. You can report here.
You can also anonymously and confidentially report images/videos through the Internet Watch Foundation.
- Speak with your child/ward’s school
If the image/video has been shared in your child/ward’s school, arrange to meet with the Pastoral Lead, Head of Year and/or Headteacher to help stop it spreading further. A Designated Safeguarding Lead at the school should also be informed and will be able to help your child/ward. You can also discuss arranging for your child/ward to receive support from the school/college’s counsellor and/or Pastoral Lead.
- Seek Support
It can be very distressing for both you and your child to have intimate images/videos shared. We encourage you and your child/ward to speak with family members and friends for support. Your child/ward can contact Childline on 0800 1111 for support and access The Diana Award’s Crisis Messenger which provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. Young people in crisis can text ‘DA’ to 85258. Trained volunteers will listen to how they are feeling and help them think through the next step towards feeling better.
The Protection of Children Act 1978 states that it is a crime to take, make, share or keep an indecent photo or video of a child under 18 – this includes taking photos/videos of yourself. This also means that sharing any indecent images of anyone under 18 is illegal, even if consent was given by the young person.
The law does not exist for the purpose of punishing young people for creating indecent images in the first place and, although it is technically illegal to create these images of yourself if you are under 18, police have a duty of care to treat your child/ward as a victim when these images are shared and seek to provide support. Digital technology has changed significantly in the time since the law was introduced in 1978, so these specific issues were not considered; however, the police should act to avoid prosecutions against victims.
Remember that there is plenty of support available to young people who are experiencing concerns around sexting. Ensure that you reach out for further support.