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Sexting is the production/and or sharing of sexual and explicit images of young people who are under the age of 18.

The content is usually sent online on social media platforms or over text message on any device that allows you to share media and messages. These include, smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Sexting can also be referred to as YPSI- youth produced sexual imagery. It is a criminal offence in these instances.

It is important for both young people, and adults to be aware of the implications of sexting on physical and mental wellbeing.

If the images are shared, young people can experience bullying at school and online. If images are shared online, young people can experience unwanted attention from unwanted people such as sex offenders who search the internet for images such as these.

Young people involved in incidents of sexting can become emotionally distressed. The embarrassment and humiliation can cause various feelings including self-harm and even suicide.

It is important to remind young people that its ok for them to talk to a trusted adult.

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Not all young people will be interested in the world of sexting but there are many reasons why some young people are:

  • They might join in because they believe all their peers are doing it.
  • It may boost their self esteem and body confidence. For example showing off their body to receive compliments.
  • Exploring their sexual identity and sexual feelings- Young people going through puberty are experiencing hormonal changes that might make them want to explore sexual feelings.
  • To feel seen or heard and connect with new people. Sharing intimate photos can make young people feel closer and connected.
  • Or there is the possibility that the young person may not know how to say no when asked for an explicit image. Especially if the other person is appearing to be emotionally manipulative. This includes threatening and blackmailing behaviours.

It is against the law for anyone under the age of 18 to take, share or possess a ‘nude’ of anyone under the age of 18 – even if it’s a selfie.

The Protection of Children Act 1978 that states that it is an immediate offence to obtain, possess or share indecent images of anyone under the age of 18 even if the images were received with the consent of the young person involved. Indecent images don’t necessarily just mean “nudes”. Any image that is deemed sexually explicit counts as a indecent image. “Indecent” means, for example:

• Naked pictures (nudes)

• Pictures of breasts

• Pictures of genitals

• Sex acts including masturbation

• Sexual pictures in underwear or swimsuits/bikinis.

Examples of sexting as a criminal offence:

• A child (under 18) showing or sharing a sexual image with their peer (also under 18)

• A child (under 18) sharing or showing a sexual image created by another child with a peer or an adult

• A child (under 18) having possession of a sexual image created by a child (under 18).

Sexting by children is primarily considered as a safeguarding issue. We as the police must, by law, record all sexting incidents on our crime system. As of 2016, we have the option to decide whether to take further action against the young people involved, and if it is in the public’s interest to do so.