​The joy of sexting – a new approach

16 November 2016

In March this year we provided an overview of the risks that children run of incurring criminal liability when creating and sharing indecent photographs of themselves via text and social media. The criminal offences were always designed to deal with criminal conduct of adults involved in child abuse. The offences did not anticipate the activities of 21st century teenagers.

New non-statutory guidance has been issued by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) – Sexting in schools and colleges: responding to incidents and safeguarding young people. This is to be read alongside the statutory guidance set out in KCSiE 2016.

The new guidance does not relax laws relating to child pornography or relevant offences. However, there is a new approach which is intended to protect children from incurring criminal liability as a result of sharing of images of themselves – such material being termed ‘youth produced sexual imagery’ (YPSI).

Circumstances which are envisaged by the new approach to YPSI include where:

  • A child creates an image of himself/herself and shares it with another child;
  • A child shares an image created by another child with another child or an adult;
  • A child is in possession of an image created by another child.

The new approach to YPSI does not apply to:

  • The sharing of indecent/sexual images of children by adults – this constitutes sexual abuse;
  • Children sharing adult pornography or other sexual texts without imagery – this remains a safeguarding concern and could risk criminal liability depending on the nature of the material.

Incidents of YPSI are a safeguarding concern and policies should be updated to reflect the new guidance. Incidents should be referred to the DSL. The guidance includes recommended protocols and procedures.

In particular, the guidance recommends referral to Children’s Services and/or the police where there is evidence of:

  • Any adult involvement;
  • Coercion, blackmail, grooming;
  • Violence;
  • Sexual acts unusual for a child’s age or any sexual act involving a child under age 13;
  • Risk of harm e.g. self-harm or suicidal tendencies

Otherwise, the DSL may conclude it is possible and appropriate to manage the matter internally under the School’s updated Safeguarding and Child Protection Policies. Where incidents of YPSI are referred to police, they will be permitted greater flexibility to record that they chose not to take further action as it was ‘not in the public interest’.

Staff should not view images where there is reason to believe they may be sexual images of a child. Wherever possible, the School’s response should be based on what the DSL has been told about the imagery by a child. Disclosures from pupils should be treated sensitively and taken seriously, following procedures recommended in the guidance.

By Ben Collingwood

For further advice, please call us on 01483 543210 or alternatively email