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Guest blog - What do you know about sexting and the law?

In our latest guest blog, Alex Meade, Operations Manager for the Safer Schools and Communities Team (Child Centred Policing, Prevention Department), talks to us about sexting and the law.

Dorset Police are asking young people what they know about sexting, the law around it and whether they know what to do if they need help.

Technology is changing the way we interact with each other. The ability to hold video calls and share photos has helped us to feel more connected to the people we care about at a time when we are unable to be with them in person.

The enforced distance we have all experienced may have placed additional pressure on people, particularly those in relationships, to engage in sexting. Sexting includes the sending and receiving of sexual images, videos and messages.

However, anyone who decides to do this needs to bear in mind that, once you have pressed ‘send’, that picture will continue to exist online for longer than you think – far longer. The relationship may not last forever, but that picture you just sent might well do. Photographs can also be shared and posted once they’re online. Think very carefully about how much you can trust the person you just sent it to.

And if you are under 18 it is against the law for anyone to take or have a naked or semi-naked photo of yourself. This is the case even if it is consensual and even if it is a selfie.

If you have sent a ‘sext’ and regret it there is support available for you and in the first instance you should speak to an adult you trust.

If it is deemed necessary for police to become involved, reports of sexting by under 18s will be recorded as a crime. But this does not mean that you will have a criminal record. It is important to know that the police will always help young people and safeguard them if they are involved in any type of sexting.

In normal circumstances, the Safer Schools and Communities Team carry out work where there have been reports of ‘sexting’ between young people. We speak directly to the young people involved, delivering education and explaining the law around sexting and that once images are online they could be there forever. This may also involve talking with parents or their appropriate adult.

As a result of the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, much of this work has been conducted online with the young person and their appropriate adult using video conferencing facilities, this includes ensuring all images are deleted with the help of the appropriate adult. Written guidance is then sent to the appropriate adult with further information and follow on support.

The digital world can be a harmful place and once you press send on an image you lose complete control over what happens to it and who sees it. 

Please think carefully before you send someone a naked or semi-naked photo of yourself. The same goes for those who ask for the images. If the person you are asking to send you a photo is under 18, what you are asking them to do is illegal. What young people often refer to as ‘nudes’ are formally known as child abuse images under the law if the individual is 17 or younger.

For more information and to complete Dorset Police’s survey on sexting, visit the Force’s website here > 

Find out more about what Safer Schools and Communities Team do here >

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