What is Sexting?
Sexting is the sending of sexually explicit messages and pictures using an electronic device*.
It can include:
a message or post written with sexual language
nude or semi-nude photos/videos
photos/videos of sexual acts
live chats with someone involving sexual acts
screenshots or videos
* An electronic device could be a mobile phone, tablet, laptop, pc, game consoles or any piece of equipment that can take or share images digitally.
What's wrong with that?
Many young people don’t see the issue with sexting, but what if it was you in the image?
What if you or one of your friends had sent a picture to one person only for them to share it with their friends, and before you know it, everyone you know has seen it. When it comes to sexting, many young people feel pressured into sending pictures of their bodies to people they are having a relationship with or to people they are interested in. Others may feel pressured because they’re friends are doing it and they don’t want to be seen as immature.
What people don't realise is that sexting is illegal if you are under the age of 18 – even if you are the person in the picture.
Sexting: The Risks
Once an image has been sent:
You are no longer in control of that image – even though it was probably only meant for one person, you have no control over whom they show it to or what they do with it.
You could become the victim of bullying and revenge – what if you fall out with the person you sent it to? They could use the image to hurt or embarrass you.
You could be manipulated and exploited – you could be pressured into doing things you don’t want to do
You could be blackmailed – you could be pressured into handing over cash or sending more pictures
You could be arrested and charged. – and if found guilty, you could find yourself on the Sex Offenders Register.
Although sexting is illegal if you are under 18, the police recognise that people make mistakes and will try where possible, to help you. If you find yourself in this position, don’t be afraid to ask for help from an adult you trust – a parent, family member, teacher or the police themselves. The police have dedicated departments to tackle issues like these and will try to help you stop the images being circulated, but once an image is out there, it can be saved and shared again and again
Sexting & The Law
Even though the age of sexual consent is 16, the law states that if you possess, take, make or distribute indecent mages of a person under the age 18, or if the person appears to be under 18, you may be prosecuted - even if you are the person in the image.
Sexting is not illegal if it is between consenting adults, however, many young people are unaware that sexting is illegal if you are under the age of 18.
If you are aged 12 or more, and the offence is considered serious, you can be prosecuted in a criminal court for sexting.
The laws relating to Sexting are:
Protection of Children Act 1978 (section 1) - it is an offence to make or be in possession of indecent images of children.
Abusive Behaviour & Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 – it an offence for the non-consensual sharing of, or threatening to share, private and intimate images.
You can also be prosecuted under the following laws:
Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (Section 52 and 52A)
Communications Act 2003 (Section 127)
Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 (Section 39)
Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 (Sections 6, 7 and 9)
The police do not want to criminalise young people for sexting, but if a complaint is made, the police have a duty to investigate. If you are found to be involved in taking, making, possessing or distributing indecent images of a person under the age 18, you could be prosecuted and find yourself on the Sex Offenders Register. These laws are in place to protect children and young people from exploitation.
Sexting - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What if a young person (under the age of 18) takes a sexually explicit image of themselves and shares it with someone?
The young person has committed an offence by making and possessing that image. If they then send the image to another person then a further offence has been committed by distributing the image. The person who receives the image could also be prosecuted for possessing the image.
What if 2 young people aged under 18 send sexual messages to each other?
This could still be an offence but the exact nature of the message/ chat would be considered – especially if one person is encouraging the other to send sexual images.
What if the messages are between an adult and someone under 18?
This may be a possible offence, but again the exact detail and nature of the chat will be considered. The ages of the people involved would also be considered. If the message/ text encourage a child to engage in sexual activity or to make or distribute sexual images of themselves or another child, this could be breaking the law.
What if young people are sharing sexual images of an adult?
No offence has been committed.
How can I protect my child?
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on what your child/ young person is up to online. Talk to your child about sexting – let them know that you are aware that many young people share pictures online, and remind them that it’s very easy to lose control of images once they have been shared.
Many young people may be unaware that sexting is against the law if they are under the age of 18, so talk to them about the law and how this could impact their life. Also let them know that they can talk to you if they receive an image that concerns them, or if they are being asked to share images of themselves or others.
You could also show them how to block unwanted messages on their phones, tablets or favourite apps, or set up parental controls to stop your child from accessing harmful content.
LANDED Sexting Workshop
Duration: 60 minutes (This workshop can be delivered to a small group, or a full year group assembly as a presentation)
Aim of workshop: To raise awareness of the risks and consequences of sending indecent images for young people aged under 18.
What is Sexting?
Which images are acceptable and which are not?
The legalities of sexting for young people aged 18 and under
The impact Sexting can have on a young person’s life
PLEASE NOTE: Due to the nature of this presentation, some of the images contain nudity. If you think
this will be inappropriate for your group, please let us know.
Click here to find out how to book.
Have a look at the links below for further reading and information.
Reward Foundation: The Law: Sexting in Scotland | The Reward Foundation
Ofcom Report (Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes): Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2020/21 (ofcom.org.uk)
Internet Matters Report (Teens Sexting and the Risks): Internet-Matters-Look-At-Me-Report-1.pdf (internetmatters.org)
Understanding and Combatting Youth Experiences of Image-Based Sexual Harassment and Abuse Report: Understanding-and-combatting-youth-experiences-of-image-based-sexual-harassment-and-abuse-full-report.pdf (ascl.org.uk)