Managing cases of sexting (youth produced sexual images) and inappropriate sexual contact online

This information aims to support and assist education staff, partner agencies and practitioners in their work with children, young people and families when dealing with incidents of youth produced sexual images and inappropriate sexual contact online.

Introduction

Consultation with school staff, partners and practitioners highlighted some misconceptions about the police approach to dealing with sexting and inappropriate sexual contact online involving children and young people, affecting expectations in terms of police response and impacting on decisions whether to report to police or not.

In response to the findings, guidance has been developed to support professionals with risk assessment and decision-making, setting out when a police response/investigation is necessary to safeguard and protect a child at risk, balancing this with the fact that a police response is not always necessary or in best the interests of the child(ren) involved.

It is accepted that offences may be present in such incidents, however, it is important for professionals and parents to know that police will always prioritise the safety, welfare and education of the child(ren) involved, avoiding formal sanctions and criminalisation where possible, contrary to the notion that reporting a child involvement in sending or sharing sexual content will result in them having a criminal record.

The guidance details the risk factors police will consider when investigating a report of sexting or inappropriate sexual contact online to assist professionals with deciding whether a police response is necessary or not, and provides answers to some common questions.

Low risk factors

Where risk is low, having no aggravating risk factors present, school staff and practitioners are encouraged to resolve incidents within their own behaviour/safeguarding policies, through restorative and holistic approaches.

High risk factors

Where aggravating risk factors are present, as detailed in the guidance, police should be notified to further investigate, secure early evidence and ensure young victims are protected by the law. Where a child may have offended, police will take a fair and proportionate approach to prevent repeat offending and unnecessary criminalisation.

The guidance document is presented as a flowchart style info-graphic, accessible via the link button below along with a link to the Safe4me Sexting toolkit.

Sexting & Sexual Contact Online Flowchart
Safe4me Sexting Toolkit