If your child has sent a nude, what steps should you take and what support can you expect from local agencies? Our experts provide insight on this and more about the law, sexting and tips to manage the situation.
There are a lot of “depends” in relation to young people and ‘sexting’. The government has issued statutory guidance to schools on Keeping Children Safe in Education 2016 and the school should have a formal procedure for dealing with sexting, so it’s important to ask the school for this. Most schools will make a judgement on whether to involve outside agencies (such as the police) but it is important that parents are involved in the discussions and whether support, further education or punishment is most appropriate. Each sexting incident is different and it is important that schools deal with them appropriately on a case by case basis.
This is down to a) whether the school chooses to involve the police and b) whether the police decide it is in the public interest to record the incident as a crime (or, in serious cases, move to prosecute). Since January 2016 the police have the option to record an incident as “Outcome 21”, which makes a note of it taking place but not putting it on criminal record. Many sexting incidents are now dealt with in this way. However, for more serious incidents (for example, deliberately sharing an image to abuse, using the image to coerce or exploit the victim) prosecution may still take place.
Policies regarding sexting vary slightly from school to school, as well as the exact procedure according to the individuals involved, the age and context.
For the school to be aware that incidence of sexting has taken place – probably a tiny fraction of the actual number – there are probably wider issues such as subsequent sharing and bullying, a distressed response to unsolicited images or a parent alerting the school after monitoring their child’s social media use. The latter is the least likely, as most sexual images are shared via SnapChat which limits the time of visibility.
School pastoral or safeguarding staff will usually meet with all of the parties who are involved in the sexting. This might mean sharing information with equivalent staff at another school, should one of the young people attend a different setting.
Assessing the situation
The staff members will interview the students and ascertain if there has been any coercion involved in obtaining the image as well as assessing age difference and whether there is a bullying or abusive dimension to the incident.
Parents will usually be contacted and all of the involved parties will be required to remove the image from their devices. Whilst it is illegal for any child under the age of 18 to make, send, share or request an explicit image, younger children may, of course, need additional support from counselling services, the police or social services.
Most professionals would be in agreement that it is not in the best interests of a child to criminalise them for sending a sexual image, despite the fact that the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old and the behaviour itself is illegal,
Therefore, most schools and police liaison officers will work hard to prevent the behaviour from taking place with lessons and assemblies, and by working with parents and groups of students who are involved in this behaviour, to avoid the very serious consequences of a sexual offence related criminal record. However, repeat offenders, sexting to and requesting images from younger children and evidence of intimidation and coercion is likely to result in a warning or criminal record.
Steps parents can take
This is something that the police have become acutely aware of over the last few years as increasing numbers of incidents have been bought to our attention. If an incident happens or is discovered at school, we would encourage the school to follow the guidance for schools on sexting and make a risk assessment as to the potential seriousness of the incident and assess the level of harm being caused.
The school can make a decision if there are no aggravating circumstances, which would include multiple images or a large age difference between sender and receiver to deal with it using their own internal behaviour policy.
If aggravating circumstances are present, then we would expect the school to involve the police. When a crime is reported to the police it is recorded. The police will investigate to understand the potential seriousness of the incident and a decision will be made regarding the outcome for the young person/ people involved. We will always aim to avoid unnecessarily criminalising a young person in our decision making.
What parents can do
My advice to parents is to talk with their children and make sure they understand the potential consequences of sending a nude picture. It is a criminal offence, and because it is of a sexual nature can have long-lasting implications. If a parent finds that their child has sent a nude picture, once again it would be really important to talk to them and understand the extent of the sharing and the context for doing it and whether their child needs help and support in order to manage the situation.
It is important to remember that your child might not have asked to be sent the picture, and in many cases they get sent around a group. While only a few children in a year group may be generating and/or sending messages, far more will be exposed to them. It is important not to overreact, they might be upset they have been sent the image and worried they will be told off. It’s important to talk to the school if other children are involved. The most important thing to do is talk to your child(ren) about this sort of thing before it happens, and let them know that it goes on and they that they can talk to you without being in trouble.
It’s important to stay calm; reassure them that they have done the right thing by telling you. Listen to them and offer support – they’re probably upset and will need help and advice, not criticism.
Remind them not to print or share the image as this could put them at risk.
You might want to isolate their device or prevent them from accessing to the image temporarily, however, be aware that a complete removal of internet access may prevent them from seeking help in the future.
Ask them if they know the person who sent it to them;
If the image was sent by another young person, explore with your child how to block them from sending further images. If the sender is another pupil, support your child to speak with the schools Designated Safeguarding Lead. This is important, so the school can take appropriate action to safeguard other children involved.
If they do not know who has sent them the image or believe it has been sent by an adult, report the concern urgently. You can report the concern to CEOP’s child protection advisors: https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre or contact your local police.
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