The first time I came across the term sexting was back in 2010. Vernon Kay had been exposed by a Sunday tabloid for sending sexts to page 3 models behind wife Tess Daly’s back. It was described then, in Cosmo, as sending racy messages; like phone-sex but over text. I remember thinking it hilarious at the age of 18, “why are grown-up’s writing out ‘sexts’ when they could just send nudes!?’’
Fast forward five years and I’m confronted with this term sexting again only now, it’s not so funny! Whereas before I may have viewed it as a bit of flirty frivolous fun, it’s now always presented to me as a problem.
It’s not only teenagers that are full of horny hormones, happily sending nudes to their fancies... adults are doing it too! So, what’s the problem?
We all know the biggest worry occurs when those pictures leave the hands of the creator and are shared wider than the intended audience. In some cases ending up being shared by and even sold to paedophiles. The ramifications of this can be huge and emotionally distressing for the victim.
The Protection of Children Act, 1978 (UK) stipulates that sending, creating, and/or possessing an indecent image of anyone under 18 is committing an offence, even if that picture is of you.
So while It is perfectly legal (in the UK) for a 16 year old to have sex, if they were to take a naked picture and send it to their partner, not only would they be committing the offence of sharing an indecent image, but also of creating one. When their partner receives said image, they are in possession of an indecent image of a child. For this, both parties could be prosecuted.
Make sense!? Maybe not!
When the law was created in 1978, it could never have been predicted that one day, most children would have cameras that fit in their pocket and have a collection of ‘Kim K’ inspired selfies is as routine as walking the dog. This means there is very little grey area within the law to make these exceptions. Luckily the majority of UK police forces have agreed that they will not be prosecuting children for sexting (discretion used in every case). In the USA however, not so lucky. In July 2014 a 17 year old boy from Virginia was prosecuted for sending indecent images of himself, to his 15 year old girlfriend (!) Needless to say, I think there is a real need to have a review into this legislation.
But, the actual sexting itself?
I find it perplexing, as a society the main message we offer is, "Don’t do it" or "Think about it", when all kids have to do is pop onto the daily mail or open up a Sunday tabloid to read about the latest revenge porn* case. There are whole websites dedicated to hosting this content, don’t forget.
Unless we can set better examples, we need to first accept that sexting is now a normal part of growing up /sexual experimentation. The more we demonise and try to control a natural behaviour the weirder it becomes (Shout out the creator of myex.com).
We need to allow our children to take risks, but we want to do this in the safest way possible. Unfortunately, a teenager taking a nude of themselves and sending to a partner is never going to be 100% safe. What we can do, is work towards a society that doesn’t judge, where a child has a trusted adult they can talk to, not be told off or patronised, but given the support and advice they need to help them through the embarrassment they will one day think nothing of.
Rather than put the onus on the creator of that image we need to be focusing on the sharing. Why share a picture of your mate’s ex-girlfriend to everyone in your phone book? There can’t be any sexual gratification from this, it’s just another way to bully...
While I would like to advocate that we should be more relaxed about sexting in general, you must always seek guidance on whether it should be reported to police. The balance here may be difficult, and you can always call POSH for guidance, but the reporting is important. What if that child sexting was showing overtly sexual behaviour because they are being abused at home? Or the kid that is repeatedly sharing images without even knowing the person in them? That intelligence may well be vital in helping another child.
It would be madness if at the end of this blog, I didn’t sign post you to our fabulous resource, So you Got Naked Online, that you can find here.
*The difference between sexting and revenge porn; Revenge porn is a term used to describe the non-consensual sharing of intimate images of an ADULT. We would never use the term ‘revenge porn’ to describe anyone under the age of 18 sexting. Much in the same way you would not refer to images of CSE as child porn. If you wish to find out more about revenge porn & where to get help, please go to www.revengepornhelpline.org.uk.