Sexting Guidance

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Sexting is an issue we increasingly see on the Professionals Online Safety Helpline as young people develop more relationships online. The sexting cases we support are often multifaceted and complex, so we have created some guidance to help you understand the current resources available to support any safeguarding issues regarding sexting.

The guidance below generally reflects the UK Council for Internet Safety's guidance on sexting, which offers a comprehensive and detailed explanation of how to address a sexting incident in educational settings throughout England.

What is Sexting?

Although sexting can mean different things to different people, in this context ‘sexting’ refers to the sharing of nudes and semi-nudes or sexual messages. This can be in the form of a photo, video, or live stream. Sexting can take place on many different platforms, including social media sites, gaming sites, or messaging apps.

Sexting is often referred to in different ways, such as ‘nude image sharing’, ‘nudes', ‘sexts’, or ‘nude selfies’.

Is Sexting a Crime?

In England, creating and sharing nudes and semi-nudes of under-18s (including those created and shared with consent) is illegal, which makes responding to incidents involving children and young people complicated.

It is important to remember that the motivations behind under-18-year-olds taking and sharing nude, semi-nude images or other forms of content are not always criminally or sexually motivated.

There are many different factors to consider when responding to a sexting incident, including the ages of the people involved, and whether coercion or consent was involved in the decision to share sexual images or messages.

Any adult who shares or creates nudes or semi-nudes of under-18-year-olds is committing a form of child abuse and must be referred to the police as a matter of urgency.

Responding to a Sexting Incident

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Searching and Viewing Devices

It is important to make sure that staff, carers, and parents do not view any child's nudes or semi-nudes without good reason. Any response to a sexting incident should be evaluated based on the DSL’s understanding of the content involved.

Decisions made to view imagery should always be based on the judgment of the DSL and comply with the child protection policy and procedures in place. No imagery should be viewed if it will cause distress or harm to the young person involved.

Designated Safeguarding Leads should ensure the following:

  1. Viewing the imagery is the only way to make a decision about involving other agencies, as it isn’t possible to establish facts otherwise.
  2. The images need to be reported to a website or agency such as the Internet Watch Foundation, or could support a young person or parent to report the content.
  3. Viewing the imagery has been unavoidable due to a young person presenting it directly to a member of staff, or if content has been found on a school device.

If it is necessary to view images, the DSL should ensure:

  1. Any images should not be copied, printed, shared, or stored as that is illegal. If this has happened, police should be contacted.
  2. Any decisions should be discussed with the headteacher or senior leadership team.
  3. Viewing should be undertaken by the DSL with authority from the headteacher or senior leadership team.
  4. Viewing should take place with another member of staff present and should ideally take place on premises by a member of staff of the same sex as the young person involved.

It is essential to record how and why decisions were made to view the imagery in the safeguarding or child protection records.

Any decision about searching devices, viewing, or deleting images should be clearly explained to the child or parent based on their request.

For more information on searching, deleting, and confiscating devices in schools, you can read the DfE’s Searching, screening and confiscation advice.

When to Involve Others

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Government Guidance

Sexting guidance can vary depending on your school's location. Read the applicable guidance across the UK below.