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Sexting is the sending of sexually explicit messages and pictures via mobile phones. It is a growing trend amongst young people and is also often used by sexual predators when they are grooming child victims.

The law

It is an offence to possess/send/make/take/distribute/show indecent photos of children (person under the age of 18). That means that the child who takes the photo commits an offence as does any person who it gets sent to. This is the case regardless of whether or not they forward it on to other people and also applies to anyone who simply shows it to other people.

However the position of the National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) and the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre (CEOP) with regards to children who are involved in sexting is that 'prosecution options are avoided, in particular the use of legislation that would attract sex offender registration'.

It is advised that the wider safeguarding issues are looked at rather than the criminal justice element. Placing a child on the sex offenders register could cause serious damage their future. To read the whole document, see the link in related information.

The images
Once an image is on the internet, it is potentially there forever. Even if the child sending the image had no intention for it to end up on there in many cases they do and this can be potentially very harmful to the child now and in the future. Many of the images end up in chat rooms used by paedophiles and sexual predators, even those that were not taken as a result of child exploitation or grooming.

Sexual exploitation
It has been said that paedophiles are using the above laws to frighten their victims into continuing to send further indecent images of themselves by saying that unless the child continues, it will be reported to the police and the child will be arrested and face prosecution. Safeguarding the victim should be at the centre of any police involvement in not only these types of incidents but also non exploitation scenarios.

If you or anyone you know are being sexually exploited then contact your local police by dialling 101 or 999 in an emergency. Police forces have specially trained officers to deal with these types of incidents.

Additionally, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is the UK internet Hotline for anyone to report online child sexual abuse imagery and non-photographic child sexual abuse images anonymously.

IWF works internationally to make the internet safer. They help victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse.

For further information and for a link to this, along with other websites, please see links in related information.

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Answers in this FAQ section are provided by the 'Ask the Police' website. Produced by the Police National Legal Database (PNLD) team, 'Ask the Police' is an official police site approved by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC). All FAQ answers are © PNLD.