Police warn of a rising number of sexting cases among young people

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:

Police in England and Wales are dealing with a rising number of sexting cases involving children

Police forces recorded 6,238 underage sexting offences in 2016/17 – a rate of 17 a day. This was more than double the number recorded in 2014/15, when 2,700 underage sexting offences were recorded.

Chief constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, expressed concern about the number of under-18s sharing or possessing sexual images of themselves or others and said the issue is “a significant challenge” for schools and the police.

He explained: “Parents, carers and schools have a crucial role to play in talking to children about what a healthy relationship looks like, their boundaries, consent and the ramifications of sharing sexual imagery.

“There is a worrying upward trend in children sharing sexual images, particularly regarding children who pass on indecent images of others. Sharing and possessing these images is against the law. Once an image is shared with others it can cause deep embarrassment and distress.

“Forces are risk-assessing every case to ensure we are not necessarily stigmatising children and saddling them with a criminal record. But there will always be a criminal investigation where we see that young people are being coerced, exploited or blackmailed.”

Last week, the NSPCC updated its Zipit app, a resource which offers children a range of gif files which they can use to say no to sexting requests online.

The NSPCC’s Childline service held 2,634 counselling sessions about sexting in 2016/17. Sexting was also the most viewed topic on the Childline website last year, with 221,840 page views.

The Zipit app also includes advice on safe online chatting and what young people should do if they feel threatened or if an image becomes public. If a young person is worried about an image they have shared, they can visit the Childline website’s “remove” page and follow the steps to have the image taken down from the internet.

Mr Bailey, who is head of the Norfolk Constabulary, called for more to be done to remove indecent imagery “quickly and robustly” from social media platforms once it has been shared or posted without consent. He also suggested that schools could do more to tackle the influence of pornography.

He continued: “I am concerned about the impact that exposure to extreme pornography can have on children so we need to consider if a lack of universal relationship and sex education is compounding the problem.”

Police data showed that children as young as 10 have been involved in sexting, with a peak in cases involving 14-year-olds. Girls were more likely to be victims but were as likely as boys to be suspects or perpetrators.

Over the last three years sexting cases have declined during the month of August, suggesting that children are more at risk in term-time.

In the past there have been concerns that children could be criminalised over sexting cases, but the Home Office sought to address this in January 2016 by allowing the police to record an offence without any formal action being taken.

This, however, is only allowed in sexting incidents where there is no evidence of exploitation, grooming, profit motive or malicious intent.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Claim Free Subscription