Sexting is where people exchange messages, images or videos of a sexual nature through digital platforms. It is a form of communication that can occur between friends, partners, and people you have met online. It refers explicitly to self-generated content and usually involves sexually explicit messages consisting of naked pictures, underwear pictures, and erotic messages.
Why do young people sext?
- They think it’s normal, as “everyone else is doing it”
- They are in a relationship with the receiver
- They are asked by another to do so, and feel under pressure
- They believe it’s a private exchange between them and the receiver, and they trust the other person.
- Are trying to impress the receiver, or show how much they like them.
- Have been blackmailed or harassed into it.
- In a survey carried out by NSPCC and Childline they spoke to 450 teenagers from across the UK.
- Of those who had sent an image or video to someone else by text, 58% said the image had been sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend, but a third said they had sent it to someone they knew online but had never met.
- About 15% said they had sent the material to a stranger.
- Of those who said they had sent a photo to someone, 20% said it had then been shared with other people, while 28% said they did not know if their picture had been shared with anyone else.
- More than half (53%) of those questioned said they had received a sexual photo or video, a third of whom had received it from a stranger.
- 12% of girls feel pressured to do it.
- 17% of sexters share the messages they receive with others, and 55% of those share them with more than one person.
- 61% of all sexters who have sent nude images admit that they were pressured to do it at least once.
What are the implications of Sexting?
PUBLIC HUMILIATION:No matter how much you trust somebody now, people fall out and split up. If they still have your message, they may no longer feel obliged to keep it a secret. Similarly, be aware that when you use a camera to video chat or send snapchats, people can still take screenshots and store these images.
BULLYING AND EXCLUSION:Sexts that get shared publicly can make others judge you unfairly, and are often the catalysts for cyberbullying.
RUINED REPUTATION:If your sext does end up online, not only can it be seen by millions of people worldwide, it is nearly impossible to erase. Future employers, universities and colleges could come across it.
PRESSURE AND GUILT: If you sext once, the person who received it may expect more, and try to make you feel guilty if you want to stop.
BLACKMAIL:If someone nasty gets hold of your sext it can make them very powerful, which may open you up to blackmail. Make sure you report it to your parents and school immediately.
LEGAL CHARGES:If you spread sexual images of a person under the age of 18, you could be charged for circulating indecent images of children – even if the images are of you. This can result in serious legal consequences that will follow you for the rest of your life.
What Should Parents Do?
We strongly advise that parents notify their children of the implications of sexting. Don’t accuse them of sexting, but do explain the dangers and the legal issues.
What is the law on sexting?
Creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. Your child is breaking the law if they:
- Take an explicit photo of video of themselves or a friend.
- Possess, download or keep an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.
- Share an explicit image or video of a child, even if it’s shared between children of the same age.
Parents should explain to their children that if they send a sexual image of themselves or another child, once it is sent, they will have no control over how it is passed on. Sexting is rarely a private, harmless act. Once it has been sent, the sender no longer has any control of where it ends up. If a message is shared, it opens young people up to many forms of abuse or exploitation. Although your child may trust the person they are sending the message to, there is a chance their picture could end up on social networking sites or even porn sites.
This may be a very upsetting and shocking time, but if possible, parents should try and contain any anger or distress. Remember, it is highly likely their child will be feeling anxious talking to them about it.
- Remind their children that they aren’t alone
- Listen and offer their support – try to refrain from criticism or aggression
- Don’t ask “why”questions, as this is likely to make them feel uneasy and reluctant to talk to you about it
- Help them understand what has happened and assure them that you will do everything to help
How should parents talk to their children about sexting?
SafeToNet understands that every child is different, so apply the following steps with an approach that suits their child’s character. They should have a conversation and notify them about the rules of having a mobile device.
- Explain to their child what is and what is not acceptable content to send to other people
- Explain the potential consequences and dangers above
- Let them know that it is ok to say no to people and that pressuring is wrong. Ensure they have an understanding that their body is private and being asked to send sexually explicit content is inappropriate
- Make it clear that they will be supportive and understanding
- It is an opportunity to discuss the benefits of installing SafeToNet on their device
What Can Children Do?
Sometimes people receive sext messages whether they have asked for them or not. How they react is extremely important. Kidscape have some great tips on what you should do if you receive a sext.
DON’T SHOW ANYONE:Try to understand the level of trust that person has put in you. Imagine how you would feel if they showed someone your sext.
DON’T FORWARD IT: Even if you have a fight or a breakup, sharing a sex out of anger or revenge can have serious long-term consequences. You could be suspended from school, or even get into trouble with the police. If you spread sexual images of a person under the age of 18, you could be charged for circulating indecent images of children.
DELETE IT:Don’t keep the sext, the longer it is saved on your phone, the more likely somebody else will see it. If you have SafeToNet on the child’s device our “Gallery Scan” feature will blur out any images with nudity saved on their device.
DON’T PRESSURISE:Forcing someone to send a sexual image is emotional and sexual bullying.
DON’T FEEL OBLIGED TO RESPOND: Just because you have received a text does not mean you have to send one back. If you didn’t ask for the image, delete it, ignore it, or ask them to stop.
REPORT IT:If you are under the age of 18 and have been sent sexts from someone a lot older than you, or someone has been pressuring you to send a sext to them, talk to a trusted adult straight away. You can also report them on the CHILD EXPLOITATION AND ONLINE PROTECTION CENTREwebsite.
PREVENT IT: If you are being sent sexts against your will, block the contact from your phone or online accounts.
What can children do if they’ve already shared photos of themselves?
It is common for them to feel stressed, anxious, guilty or embarrassed, but don’t worry. Here are two tips on what action to take:
- Tip 1: We recommend that they get in contact with the person they sent the image to, and ask them to delete it. They cannot guarantee what the person will do with the image but they can try and prevent them from passing it on to friends or social networks.
- Tip 2: They should try and talk to someone they trust about their situation. It could be a close friend, sibling, your parents, a teacher, or a carer. The sooner they do this, the better. If they are not sure whether to say something or not make a report to Childline where counsellors are ready to support them confidentially. Their school will have set policies on how to deal with such incidences and can confiscate mobiles if they feel they have sexual images on them.
Advice for Children on How to say “NO”
It is common for people to use emotional blackmail to get others to send pictures. Forms of emotional blackmail could include “I sent a photo, where’s mine?”, or “you promised”. Emotions such as guilt, pressure and anxiety are common, get in touch with a Childline counsellor for help.
Here are two tips on how to stop someone sexting you:
- Tip 1: Block them. Social networking sites and most mobile phones have the option to block people to prevent them from contacting you.
- Tip 2: Not all mobile phones have the option to block contacts, and there are some ways to get around being blocked. Another way to prevent someone from sexting you is to change your mobile number. Talk to a parent to help you with this.
What can they do if their sext has gone viral?
We understand this can be extremely upsetting, they should try and stay level headed. Kidscape have some steps they can follow, they need to act quickly, and hopefully, they can gain back control and minimise the impact.
TELL YOUR PARENTS OR GUARDIANS:This may be a hard task to do, but until it is done, the situation will only get worse.
REPORT TO THE SCHOOL:Go with your parents to report the incident to your teacher. Do this as soon as possible so that you can limit the number of people who will see the sext. If you know the names of people who have had access to the sext, you must tell the teacher. The teacher will be able to confiscate and search the content of their phones and force the child to delete the image and punish them if anything is found.
SHOW EVIDENCE OF CYBERBULLYING: If your sext has been shared online, screenshot the evidence. Screenshot profile names, actions and comments of the people involved and give these to the school.
DON’T HOLD BACK:Now that is is out in the open, make sure you tell the school the whole story. Don’t protect those who were involved, it may happen again in the future.
STOP ALL COMMUNICATIONS:If people have been harassing you online, block their numbers and profiles from being able to communicate with you further. Make sure your social media accounts are private to ensure only trusted friends can gain access to your accounts in the future.
REMOVE IMAGES:If your sext has been shared online, for example over social media, you can report the users to the website administrators. NetAware provides useful information on how to do this. They will be able to caution or block the user from the site and remove all retrievable traces of the sext. However, please remember that once an image is shared, it can be difficult to remove it completely. You can also contact the Internet Watch Foundation or Childline for extra guidance.
LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE:It is by no means your fault that your sext has been shared – you trusted someone with it and they failed you. No matter how others may make you feel, sexting is not a necessary part of a relationship. Always remember, if you wouldn’t want your parents, peers, teacher, the police or future employers to see it, don’t send it!
Compiled in collaboration with SaferLondon, the Anti-Bullying Alliance and John Carr OBE