Sexting (also called sexy selfies) is the exchange of sexual messages or images and creating, sharing and forwarding sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images through mobile phones and the internet.
Children who send and receive ‘sexts’, through text messages or social media, may be committing criminal offences relating to the creation and distribution of indecent images of children.1 Children may be committing a criminal offence even if they make an image of themselves or by forwarding an image they have been sent. This is behaviour that would be lawful if they were adults (it is not against the law for anyone aged 18 and over to share naked images of themselves).
Schools are not required to notify the police about pupils involved in sexting:
“In essence the school is encouraged to deal with issues on school premises and the only times crimes should be recorded are if they were serious or the parent, school or victim asks police specifically to deal with the matter.”2
The police follow guidance on when to record criminal offences.3 If the police are notified about a ‘sext’ and record it on the police national computer (PNC) then it is information that may be disclosed as part of an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
CPS guidance is that children should not be prosecuted or criminalised unnecessarily.
“..the overriding purpose of the legislation is to protect children and it was not Parliaments intention to punish children unnecessarily or for the criminal law to intervene where it was wholly in appropriate.”4
“The age and maturity of suspects should be given significant weight, particularly if they are under the age of 18. Children may not appreciate the potential harm and seriousness of their communications and a prosecution is rarely likely to be in the public interest.”5
The Home Office Outcome Code 21 was created primarily to tackle the criminalising of “sexting” by children and young people by encouraging police to record a crime as having been committed but for no formal criminal justice action to be taken as it is not considered to be in the public interest to do so.
- 1. Offences contrary to section 1 Protection of Children Act 1978 – indecent photographs of children and Section 62 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 – prohibited images of children
- 2. Page 2, The National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS): What you need to know
- 3. National Crime Reporting Standard – Home Office Counting Rules For Recorded Crime, April 2015, Annex B – Crime Reporting (Schools Protocol).
- 4. CPS Legal Guidance on Youth Offenders
- 5. Paragraph 50, CPS Guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media