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Last updated: 04.01.17

Laws on sexting

There can be legal implications of sexting, especially when children are involved, as well as the risk of images getting into the wrong hands.

In the age of social media when there is a phone with a camera in just about everyone?s pocket, sexting is a real issue. What can initially seem like a simple thing between two people can easily evolve into something a lot more widespread and before you know it the situation is out of control. There are laws in place to help protect children from becoming the victims of sexting.

What is sexting?

The word sexting is an amalgamation of sex and texting and is when someone sends sexually explicit messages to others. The content can be photos or a video and could be of themselves or another person. Sharing such images can be done on a number of devices, including phones, tablets and laptops, making it very easy to do.

Some people can feel pressured to participate in sexting by someone they are in a relationship with or even a person they know, but don?t consider a boyfriend or girlfriend. There are various terms used to describe sexting, such as pic for pic and trading nudes, which are essentially the same thing.

Sexting between children

While it is illegal to have sexual relations with a person under the age of 16, there are laws to protect anyone up to 18-years-old from sexting. They apply to the child themselves if they are taking the pictures or video. Since January 2016, the police in England and Wales can record that a young person has been creating and sharing explicit images without taking formal action if this is in the public interest.
Actions that are illegal when carried out by a child:

  • Taking explicit photos or videos of themselves or someone else
  • Sharing such images with others, even if the recipients are the same age
  • Possessing, storing or downloading explicit images of a child, even if the individual is aware of it

Sexting between an adult and a child

If sexting occurs between an adult and a child the implications in terms of the law are much more serious. As well as covering the taking of pictures and videos, sharing and storing, an adult who requests such content from a minor is breaking the law.

Sexting between adults

Sending sexually explicit photos and videos from one adult to another is not a sexual offence. If, however, they are unwanted by the recipient, then there is other legislation under which they could get into trouble, such as harassment, for example.

The perils of sexting

Nobody should share sexual content of themselves because they feel pressured to do so and any adult that does send pictures or videos of a sexual nature should be aware of the consequences before doing it. As well as realising there could be legal implications, there are also instances where such content gets into the wrong hands and is spread widely across the internet.

Safeguarding course picker page

We've recently produced a guide to help you understand what sexting is and what can be done to safeguard children. To download your copy, click here.