Is sexting illegal?

Sexting - like dating apps - is now part of our digital landscape. Understand the facts, and the law, to remove any confusion and make sure the internet is a safe place for young people

It’s normal to experiment whilst you are figuring out your sexual identity, but when our offline experiences intermix with our digital worlds, it can become confusing. In the age of the internet, sexting is something you or your friends may encounter. But what does it involve, and how safe is it? We spoke to Ellie from Childnet, a charity that aims to make the internet a great and safe place for young people.

Ellie speaks to young people to make sure their experiences are heard, and also works on Project deSHAME which looks at tackling online sexual harassment amongst young people.

What is sexting?

‘Sexting’ describes the use of technology to share sexual and sexually implied content. This content includes photos or videos of full or partial nudity and sexual images. This could be shared between partners, peers and strangers. It’s often referred to as sending ‘nudes’ instead of ‘sexting’.

How popular is sexting?

Technology is a really important and mostly positive part of our lives now. Whilst exploring your sexual identity on and offline, experimenting with sexting can often be a part of this. Our recent research found that 13% of 13-17s we surveyed in the UK had sent nude or nearly nude images of themselves to a boyfriend/girlfriend. 10% of UK 13-17s sent such images to someone that they weren’t in a relationship with.

Is sexting safe?

Sometimes it can feel easier to talk about sex, or share images online, than face to face. Like any big decision though, it’s important to really think about why you want to send an image or video. Even if you trust the person you are sending it to, think about whether it’s possible to really know that they won’t send it on, especially if the relationship doesn’t work out.

What are the risks of sexting?

It’s never ok to share someone’s nude or personal photo without their consent. Everybody has the responsibility to make sure that the internet is a safe and respectful place. It can be really upsetting for those involved, especially if the content is shared by someone they trusted. It may also cause emotional damage, if future employers, universities, colleges, friends and family know that it’s online.

However, if an image you sent does get shared without your consent – don’t blame yourself – it’s not your fault. That person has broken your trust and the sooner you tell someone and get help, the easier it is to stop the situation from getting out of hand.

Is sexting illegal?

It depends on your age. If a young person under the age of 18 takes a sexually explicit image or video of themselves then they have potentially created an indecent image of a child. By sending this content on to another person, they have distributed an indecent image of a child. By receiving content of this kind, they are in possession of an indecent image of a child. These acts break the law.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated that young people engaging in sexting should not face prosecution as first time offenders, but the situation will be investigated to ensure that the young people involved are not at risk. Repeat offenders and more extreme cases are reviewed differently, still with a focus on avoiding prosecution unless absolutely necessary.

The law relating to sexting is there to protect young people

I don’t want to ‘sext’, but everyone else is doing it…

You should always feel in control of any photos or videos you take. No one ever has the right to make you feel uncomfortable, or do something that you don’t want to do. Most research finds that it’s actually a minority of young people who actually take and share nudes of themselves – so if you don’t want to, you aren’t on your own!

It’s best to speak to someone you trust about how you can say no. It can be hard to do – especially if you like the person who has asked you. The Zipit app helps you respond to unwanted chat or pressure through the power of GIFs!

If you feel pressurised to ask others for nude images, think about the effect it could have on them. Movements like the #MeToo campaign show how important it is for everyone to fully and freely consent to any sexual activity.

Help! I’m worried about something I’ve sent…

  • Stay calm and act quickly. If you are worried about something you have sent, the quicker you act the easier it is to manage the distribution of the content.
  • It’s really important to talk to someone and ask for help. Family, friends or professionals want to make sure you are safe, but you need them to know all the facts. Be honest – let them know what happened and how you are feeling.
  • Remember, if your image or video is posted on a social media site, you can request for them to remove it. Be as specific as you can, as you need to show that it breaks the site’s terms and conditions.
  • Don’t let the fear of getting in trouble stop you from reporting. As mentioned, the law relating to sexting is there first and foremost to protect young people. The National Police Chiefs’ Council have stated that young people will be treated as victims and that sexting needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
  • If you are worried that you have been groomed or coerced into sending the content, you can make a report to CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection)
  • Check out this guide ‘So You Got Naked Online‘ from the UK Safer Internet Centre for more advice on sexting and what to do if it gets out of hand.
  • You can use Childline and IWF’s Report Remove tool. This helps you to report an image or video shared online, to see if it is possible to get it removed. Once the report has been made, it keeps you informed at each stage and provides support and feedback where necessary.

What can I do if I see someone else’s nude online?

Remember we all have a responsibility to help make the internet a great place to be. No one deserves an image or video to be shared without their permission. If you see anything online that you think would upset someone, make sure you do something about it. Sometimes the person affected may not feel like they can. Intervention can really make a difference so here’s how to help:

  • Report to the platform where you saw the content
  • Tell an adult you trust and who can help
  • You can always contact ChildLine or The Mix!

Next Steps

  • You can talk to Childline about anything. Call them for free on 0800 1111 or visit their website.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 09-Aug-2018