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Sexting is the sharing of indecent images, videos or other sexual content.

Sexting can cover a broad range of activities. It can range from the consensual sharing of an image between two children of a similar age to instances of children being exploited, groomed, and bullied into sharing images, which in turn may be shared with peers or adults without their consent.

Know the law

If you are under 18, it is against the law to:

  • take, have or distribute a sexual photo; this includes a selfie
  • have or pass on indecent images of someone under 18
  • encourage or incite someone to take or send ‘sexts’
  • take a photo of their own genitals whether the image is shared on or not

As well as the legal consequences, there are other issues to ‘sexting’ including emotional and reputational.

Police action – the proportionate approach

All reports of sexting by under 18s will be recorded as a crime. Recording a crime does not mean the person will have a criminal record.

A police officer will establish the facts. This will include assessing whether there are any aggravating factors such as the presence of exploitation, coercion, a profit motive or adults as perpetrators in the creation of the images. If there are aggravating factors or significant risks are identified, the police will take control of the incident and an investigation will take place.

If there are no aggravating factors, we will support victims and assist a school and family through education and intervention.

We will record a crime has been committed but that taking formal action is not in the public interest. This is known as utilising ‘Outcome 21.’

Outcome 21

This outcome code allows us to record a crime as having happened but for no formal criminal justice action to be taken. Crimes recorded this way are unlikely to appear on future records or checks, unless the young person has been involved in other similar activities which may indicate they are at risk.

The discretion about whether to disclose non-conviction information rests with each Chief Constable managing the process. Although no guarantee can be provided, it will be a very small number of unusual cases which may lead to a further disclosure.

If you are under 18, think before you take an explicit photo or share it

If you take or share an image of yourself via your phone, tablet or computer always think, “would I be happy for my family, future employer or local police officer to see this?”  

Once taken and sent, you have no control over what happens to the image and it could be sent to anyone and posted anywhere on the internet. Once you press send, it is no longer in your control.

Guidance and support

  • The NSPCC website provides valuable information on sexting including how to talk to your child about sexting.
  • Remember you can contact the NSPCC helpline 24 hours a day on 0808 800 5000 to speak with a counsellor if you are worried about a child or need further advice on keeping children safe.
  • If you have any concerns about child sexual exploitation or grooming, contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.
  • If you are concerned your child needs more support or if you are worried they are behaving in a sexually inappropriate way, you can also speak to your GP or you may have community based services available to you.
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