This policy outlines the Bright World Guardianships approach to reports of sexting disclosures, handling devices and imagery, risk assessing situations, partnership working, recording incidents and involving parents and schools where appropriate. This policy will be applicable for disclosures and incidents which happen to a Bright World student when they are not at school (as the school policy will be implemented), and under the care of Bright World for example while with a host family, during an event or during a transfer. This guidance is based on the report ‘Sexting in Schools and Colleges – responding to incidents and safeguarding young people’ (UK Council for Child Internet Safety), and Keeping Children Safe In Education (September 2020)
While there is no clear definition of sexting with professionals considering sexting to be ‘sending or posting sexually suggestive images, including nude or semi-nude photographs, via mobiles or over the Internet’, and young people interpreting sexting to be ‘writing and sharing explicit messages with people they know’. Many parents think of sexting as flirty or sexual text messages rather than images.
For the purpose of this policy document ‘sexting’ is seen as the sharing of sexual imagery by young people.
Creating and sharing sexual photos and videos of under-18s is illegal and therefore causes the greatest complexity for schools and other agencies when responding. It also presents a range of risks which need careful management. On this basis this advice introduces the phrase ‘youth produced sexual imagery’ and uses this instead of ‘sexting’.
‘Youth produced’ includes young people sharing images that they, or another young person, have created of themselves.
‘Sexual’ is clearer than ‘indecent.’ A judgement of whether something is ‘decent’ is both a value judgement and dependent on context.
‘Imagery’ covers both still photos and moving videos (and this is what is meant by reference to imagery throughout the document).
A person under the age of 18 creates and shares sexual imagery of themselves with a peer under the age of 18
A person under the age of 18 shares sexual imagery created by another person under the age of 18 with a peer under the age of 18 or an adult
A person under the age of 18 is in possession of sexual imagery created by another person under the age of 18
The sharing of sexual imagery of people under 18 by adults as this constitutes child sexual abuse and schools should always inform the police.
Young people under the age of 18 sharing adult pornography or exchanging sexual texts which don’t contain imagery.
Bright World Guardianships policy is to take any direct disclosure by a young person very seriously and to deal with all incidents of youth produced sexual imagery as a safeguarding concern. This applies to young people who are suspected to have shared images and to students who have had their images shared. Images can either be shared consensually (for example when in a romantic relationship, or as a joke and there is no intended malice), or with aggravating factors for example sharing images without consent and with malicious intent.
The response to consensual and non-consensual sharing of images will be proportionate to the nature and extent of the incident, with the primary concern being the welfare and protection of the young people involved. Incidents with aggravating factors should be referred to Children’s Services and/or police.
Statistics and research
A 2016 NSPCC/Office of the Children’s Commissioner England study found that just over one in ten boys and girls (13%) had taken topless pictures of themselves (around one in four of those were girls) and 3% had taken fully naked pictures. Of those who had taken sexual images, 55% had shared them with others. 31% of this group had also shared the image with someone that they did not know.
Although most young people aren’t creating or sharing this type of imagery, the potential risks are significant and there is considerable concern about the issue in schools and amongst parents. Research conducted by ‘The Key’ found that 61% of its secondary school head teacher members reported ‘sexting’ as a concern. This placed it higher than drugs, obesity and offline bullying in terms of frequency of reporting as a concern.
Research from the PSHE Association similarly found that 78% of parents were either fairly or very concerned about youth produced sexual imagery, compared to 69% who were concerned about alcohol misuse and 67% who were concerned about smoking.
Much of the complexity in responding to youth produced sexual imagery is due to its legal status. Making, possessing and distributing any imagery of someone under 18 which is ‘indecent’ is illegal. This includes imagery of yourself if you are under 18.
The relevant legislation is contained in the Protection of Children Act 1978 (England and Wales) as amended in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England and Wales).
• It is an offence to possess, distribute, show and make indecent images of children.
• The Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England and Wales) defines a child, for the purposes of indecent images, as anyone under the age of 18.
‘Indecent’ is not defined in legislation. When cases are prosecuted, the question of whether any photograph of a child is indecent is for a jury, magistrate or District Judge to decide based on what is the recognised standard of propriety. For most purposes, if imagery contains a naked young person, a topless girl, and/ or displays genitals or sex acts, including masturbation, then it will be considered indecent. Indecent images may also include overtly sexual images of young people in their underwear.
Criminalisation of children
The law criminalising indecent images of children was created long before mass adoption of the internet, mobiles and digital photography. It was also created to protect children and young people from adults seeking to sexually abuse them or gain pleasure from their sexual abuse. It was not intended to criminalise children.
Despite this, young people who share sexual imagery of themselves, or peers, are breaking the law.
We should not, however, unnecessarily criminalise children. Children with a criminal record face stigma and discrimination in accessing education, training, employment, travel and housing and these obstacles can follow a child into adulthood.
Whilst young people creating and sharing sexual imagery can be very risky, it is often the result of young people’s natural curiosity about sex and their exploration of relationships. Often, young people need education, support or safeguarding, not criminalisation.
The police response
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has made clear that incidents involving youth produced sexual imagery should primarily be treated as safeguarding issues.
Schools may respond to incidents without involving the police. Advice on the circumstances in which this would be appropriate can be found in Section 2.
The police may, however, need to be involved in cases to ensure thorough investigation including collection of all evidence (for example, through multi-agency checks), and there are incidents, highlighted in this advice, which should always be referred to the police (see Section 2).
Even when the police are involved, however, a criminal justice response and formal sanction against a young person would only be considered proportionate in certain circumstances. A formal sanction could impact negatively on an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Record as information disclosed is on the basis of whether the information is relevant to the risk an individual may pose to a child, young person or vulnerable adult.
The NSPCC, DDBS and Home Office have provided police with a new way of recording the outcome of an investigation into youth produced sexual imagery. The police now have the discretion to record that they chose not to take further action as the matter was not in the public interest (‘Outcome 21’), i.e. a criminal justice sanction is not considered proportionate.
The NPCC is working towards producing new guidance for law enforcement relating to the investigation of youth produced sexual imagery offences in order to aid local police services to develop a coordinated, effective, proportionate response. On publication this will be available via the College of Policing website
Bright World Procedure for dealing with reports of youth produced imagery:
1. Bright World staff member receives the report of suspected youth produced imagery from a student, parent or other source by face to face disclosure, email or telephone call.
2. Bright World Staff member adheres to the Child Protection Policy including contemporaneously recording the disclosure in the most appropriate format (using the Tell Explain Describe model if the information is being given by a student).
3. The record of the disclosure is reported verbally as soon as practicable to the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL), Lana Foster at Head Office on 01273 835745.
4. The staff member must submit a written record of the disclosure on an IBOS Student Record – Incident Record (Head Office staff) or an email to Lana Foster (email@example.com).
5. The DSL will hold an emergency strategy meeting to discuss the incident, assess the alleged threat and risk to the child (including any relevant facts about the child which may affect their vulnerability including age and ability), implement an action plan and continue to review the situation until a resolution has been achieved. This meeting should aim to establish whether the imagery should be viewed (in most cases imagery should not be viewed); and whether the imagery has been shared widely, via what services/platforms (which may be unknown), whether immediate action should be taken to delete or remove images from devices on online services.
6. The meeting will be recorded with timed and dated entries within a Student Record – Incident Record to record all actions and updates.
7. The DSL will arrange for the young person to be helped and supported in recognition of the pressures they may have been under to share imagery; helping them to understand the wider issues and motivations, and making available information and material on the issues of consent, trust within healthy relationships and recognising abusive and coercive language and behaviours. This help and support could be provided through the Bright World ‘buddy’ or from accredited organisations such as the school, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), ChildLine and National Crime Agency (NCA) – Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) websites and helplines.
8. The DSL will ensure that viewing of the images is only made where there are good and clear reasons to do so (unless unavoidable because the student has willingly shown a member of staff), basing incident decisions on what the DSL has been told about the content of the imagery. The DSL will ensure that staff members do not search through devices and delete imagery unless there is a good and clear reason to do so.
9. The DSL will consider the need to ask for the student to produce the device as evidence. The viewing of any images or seizing of any devices will be recorded including those present, date and time to meet Bright World standards set out for recording incidents.
10. The DSL will consider the need to contact another school, college, setting or individual and whether to contact the parents or carers of the children involved. In most cases parents should be involved unless there is good reason to believe that involving these parties would put the young person at risk of harm.
11. The incident will be referred to a statutory agency (Children’s Services on the Local Authority telephone number or the police by dialling 101) immediately if there is a concern a young person has been harmed or is at risk of harm. This would include information coming to light if at the initial stage:
• The incident involves an adult
• There is reason to believe that a young person has been coerced, blackmailed or groomed, or if there are concerns about their capacity to consent (for example owing to special educational needs)
• What you know about the imagery suggests the content depicts sexual acts which are unusual for the young person’s developmental stage, or are violent
• The imagery involves sexual acts and any pupil in the imagery is under 13
• You have reason to believe a pupil or pupil is at immediate risk of harm owing to the sharing of the imagery, for example, the young person is presenting as suicidal or self-harming
If none of the above apply, the DSL may decide (with input from key stakeholders if appropriate) to respond to the incident without involving the police or children’s social care (the DSL can choose to escalate the incident at any time if further information/concerns come to light). The decision should be recorded in line with the Safeguarding Policy and Child Protection Policy, and regularly reviewed throughout the process of responding to the incident.
The decision to respond to the incident without involving the police or children’s social care would be made in cases when the DSL is confident that they have enough information to assess the risks to pupils involved, and the risks can be managed within Bright World support framework and network for the child.
12. The DSL will advise to the young person to delete imagery and to confirm they have deleted the imagery. Young people should be given a deadline for deletion across all devices, online storage or social media sites on the basis that possession of youth produced sexual imagery is illegal. Where a young person refuses or is later discovered to have not deleted the images, they are committing a criminal offence and the police may become involved. A record will be made of these decisions as per the Safeguarding Policy including decisions, times, dates and reasons. Bright World may wish to invoke their own measures to discourage young people sharing, creating or receiving images in line with behaviour policies.
13. Where the DSL is aware that youth produced sexual imagery has been unavoidably viewed by a member of staff, the DSL should ensure that the staff member has appropriate support. Viewing youth produced sexual imagery can be distressing for both young people and adults and appropriate emotional support may be required.
*Support Services *
Bright World Guardianships are aware of additional advice or support being offered from the following organisations:
In the event that a site has no reporting function and if the content is a sexual image of someone under 18 you can report it to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). Sexual images of anyone under 18 are illegal and the IWF can work to get them removed from sites which do not have reporting procedures. Adults can report directly to the IWF here: www.iwf.org.uk. Young people can contact ChildLine who work in partnership with the IWF and will support young people through the process.
www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre If you are concerned that a child is being sexually abused, exploited or groomed online you should report to NCA-CEOP
0808 800 5002 The NSPCC has partnered with O2 to offer direct support to parents and other adults on issues relating to online safety.
ChildLine offers direct support to children and young people including issues relating to the sharing of sexual imagery.
http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/about/helpline Tel: 0844 381 4772
The POSH helpline supports professionals with an online safety concern or an online safety concern for children in their care. Professionals are able to contact the helpline to resolve issues
Published: October 2016
Reviewed: January 2021