Smartphones and social media have made it easier than ever to keep in touch with friends around the world and see what they’re doing. While much of this is positive, the technology has inevitably brought with it opportunities that, in the wrong hands, can have dark consequences. Perhaps the most destructive is that of Sexting.

See also: How to keep your kids safe online and Online Safety

What is sexting?

As the name implies Sexting is the sending or receiving of sexually explicit images, videos, or messages (usually of the sender themselves) via electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, or PCs.

Apps such as Snapchat are often used for sexting as the service famously deletes all images from users’ feeds after they’ve been viewed or the specified expiration time has been reached. Of course sexting can take place over normal text messages, WhatsApp chats, or pretty much any communication method that allows people to send media.

What is sexting: Is sexting legal?

Among consenting adults there is nothing illegal about sending sexual images, although sending unsolicited images can be deemed a criminal offence. The law obviously changes dramatically when children are involved.

At the moment the age of sexual consent in the UK is sixteen, but it remains illegal to send, receive, store on your device, or solicit sexual images from anyone under the age of eighteen.  

In fact any child that creates or shares an image of themselves is breaking the law. However, recent legislative changes in England and Wales now mean that the police can choose to state that a crime has been committed but no prosecution is necessary.

What are the dangers of sexting to adults?

While sexting can be an erotic and pleasurable way for partners to add a bit of spice to their love lives, there remains a few potential problems that should be considered.

Once an image leaves the creator’s device they no longer have control over it. Even on services such as Snapchat, which deletes content regularly, the recipient can simply take a screenshot of the image and then they have it forever.

What is sexting

This might not seem too much of an issue, but if your relationship should break down later on, especially if the split is acrimonious, then there is no way to retrieve the compromising images.

Angry partners have been known to share images between friends in an effort to humiliate their ex-partner, and the last few years have seen the emergence of ‘revenge porn’ sites online where images and videos are posted publically without the creator’s permission.

If you do fall victim to this kind of atrocious breach of trust and privacy, or know someone who has, then contacting the Revenge Porn Helpline on 0845 6000 459 can be the first steps back on the road to reclaiming your life.

What is sexting

As we stated earlier, sexting can be a fun and naughty addition to a relationship, but be sure you know what you’re getting into.

What are the dangers of sexting to teenagers and young people?

One of the major concerns for parents of young people these days is how to keep them safe online. With more and more teenagers now owning mobile phones, all of which are of course equipped with cameras and internet access, Sexting has become a serious issue.

The NSPCC reports that ‘around 1 in 7 young people have taken a semi-naked/naked picture of themselves. Over half of which went on to share the picture with someone else.’ This accompanies a previous report that stated 6 out of 10 teenagers said they had been asked for sexual images or videos.

What is sexting

Sexting can be prompted by a number of reasons, among which the NSPCC list: boosting their self esteem; to get attention and connect with new people on social media; everyone else is doing it; or that they find it difficult to say no to somebody who asks persistently for sexual images.

The dangers, aside from the criminal nature of the activity, remain similar to adults in that they obviously lose control of the image once it is sent. These can then be used to blackmail or bully the sender through the threat of sharing the offending media. Concerns about this method and the effect it has on the mental health of young people led to the Health minister Jeremy Hunt recently calling on social media companies to introduce security measures that would scan for explicit images or language and block them immediately.

While this seems like a simple solution in principle it’s far off in terms of the technology actually available today. Many social media and messaging apps use end-to-end encryption for communication, meaning the service provider can’t see what’s being sent anyway, plus the kind of pattern recognition capabilities that Hunt mentioned are too primitive at the moment to deal with the speed and volume of traffic online today.

Sexting: What help is available for parents and young people?

Information and conversation remain the primary weapons to fight the black heart of Sexting. Ensure that your child knows the potential dangers, understands the techniques that people will use to induce them, and that they can talk to you about any concerns they have.

There are a number of websites and agencies offering help and advice regarding concerns about Sexting or how to deal with the fallout if the worst happens. Try reading through those listed below, preferably with your child, to see how together you can stay safe online:

Internetmatters.org

NSPCC

UK Safer Internet Centre

Child Exploitation & Online Protection centre