Sexting advice for young people

If you have sent a 'sext' and it's gone wrong, talk to an adult you trust.

You may have heard lots about sending nudes or rudes, or sexting, or you may have heard people talking about it at school or college or on social media so what does it actually mean?

Sexting can include sending:

  • naked pictures or 'nudes'
  • 'underwear shots'
  • sexual or 'dirty pics'
  • rude text messages or video

You could be sending these to a boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone else.

Not everyone is doing it, even if they say they do. 

Sexting advice for young people

If you’re under 18 it’s against the law for anyone to take or have a sexual photo of you – even if it’s a selfie.

Once you send a sexting image you lose complete control over what happens to it.

When you send any images or texts it doesn’t just jump straight from your phone to the other phone you are sending it to. It can find its way to places you might not want it to or fall into hands that you didn’t mean it to.

You may also feel that everyone is taking and sending nudes to each other and you are the only one who is not, but that is not true.

Even if people are talking about it and are saying they’ve done it that’s not always the case. Never feel pressurised to do anything you don’t want to, including sexting someone.

In the 1970’s a law was created to stop adults from possessing images of anyone under the age of 18 who are naked or who were being abused, these images are called child abuse images. 

Many things have changed since the 1970’s including technology, but this law still remains. That means anyone who takes, sends, shares or possesses any image of someone under the age of 18 who is naked or semi-naked is breaking the law.

Although sexting is illegal, the police will always help young people and safeguard them if they are involved in any types of sexting. If a young person sends an image, and it the issue gets out of hand it is advised that they talk to a trusted adult straight away.

It’s also helpful for you to know that your school/college have powers to deal with incidents of sexting. Sometimes they will have to report it to the police and/or other agencies, if they are concerned, but they are able to help you.

Some incidents of sexting should be reported to the police for different reasons. The police will always help you.

Dorset Police have to record any incidents of sexting that is reported to us in line with National Crime Recording Standards.

What happens after this point depends on the situation itself.

If there are no ‘aggravating’ factors involved. This means the sexting you have been involved in does not have any of the following:

  • There is not a big age difference between the people sending and receiving the images
  • You haven’t been pressurised or blackmailed into sending images
  • You haven’t been involved in incidents of sexting or other relevant offences before
  • No one involved is under the age of 13
  • No one involved is over the age of 18
  • There isn’t an intent to harm you and there is no violence involved
  • No one is making any money or profit from the images
  • There isn’t any signs of anyone being groomed

If this is the case the police have the power to use something called ‘Outcome 21’. Outcome 21 means the police have recorded the incident on a police system but will not be taking any further action in this case. Information and support will be provided to you.

Outcome 21 means that you will not have a criminal record, but it does mean that your information is on a policing system.

If you do not have any other relevant offences/ incidents against you on a policing system, it is highly unlikely that this would be disclosed on a Disclosure and Barring Service check when you are applying for a job or university for example.

This recorded incident (on its own) will not stop travel to different countries.

On the other hand, if there are ‘aggravating’ factors that can be involved. These factors are:

  • There is a big age difference between the people sending and receiving the images
  • You have been blackmailed or pressurised into sending the image
  • You have been involved in incidents of sexting or other relevant offences before
  • Someone involved is under the age of 13
  • Someone involved is over the age of 18
  • There is a intent to cause harm or violence involved
  • Someone is making money or profit from the image
  • There is signs of someone being groomed

If this happens the police will investigate this as they would any other crime. The outcome of this will depend on this investigation.

As we said above if you have sent a ‘sext’ and it’s all gone wrong speak to a trusted adult straight away, this could be a parent or carer, a teacher, or another adult you can trust. Although this can be embarrassing it is important you get help and support straight away.

Speak to the person you have sent the ‘sext’ to and have an honest conversation. Ask them to delete the image and if it’s gone onto any social media platforms to take these down straight away.

If you are under the age of 18 and an indecent or nude picture of you is posted online, that's illegal. You can contact the website or social media site directly or make a report about what’s happened to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), who will speak to the website to try and remove it.

If you aren’t sure what you should do you can always call ChildLine who can support you and talk to you about what’s happened.

There is a lot of helpful advice and tips for young people who have been involved in incidents of sexting in this booklet 'So you got naked online'.

If you have has lost control of a sexual image contact Childline. Together, Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) will try to get the image removed.

Childline have joined up with YOTI to try to make this easier. YOTI is an app that safely uses a young person's ID to confirm who they are. You will need to download YOTI and then use it to take a picture of either your passport or a provisional driving license. YOTI will not store images of the ID. Childline provides instructions on how to do this here > 

You will need to provide a link to the image. But don't keep a copy of the image for evidence after you've sent the link as it’s illegal to share or store child abuse images.

Alternatively you can make a report direct to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

There is helpful advice and tips for young people who have been involved in incidents of sexting in the booklet 'So you got naked online'.

For more information and support on sexting please visit any of the below sites:


Childline has information, advice and a helpline about sexting as well as lots of other topics.

UK Safer Internet Centre

The UK Safer Internet Centre have produced checklists on using social networks safely.

The Internet Watch Foundation

The Internet Watch Foundation can help get sexual or naked images of children and young people removed from the internet.

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