Modern technology has changed every aspect of our lives – both for adults and children.

Adults and children alike are now connected to the internet 24 hours a day. According to the 2015 Back to School Survey, 65 per cent of 8-11 year olds in the UK own a smartphone.

This has inevitably opened up new ways for abusers to approach and manipulate children.

What is sexting?

“Sexting” is the creating and sharing of sexual messages or images via mobile phones. It is a growing trend amongst young people. To many children and teenagers, sexting is so common that it is seen as a normal part of flirting and teenage life.

However, sexting is also often used by sexual predators as part of grooming their child victims.

How common is sexting?

The NSPCC says that it has almost become the norm that a young person in a relationship will digitally share an explicit image of themselves.

It is so prevalent that in July 2014 the Nottinghamshire Police wrote to schools stating that they were receiving reports on a daily basis of naked images being sent between teenagers using mobile phones.

This has been echoed at a national level – in June 2015 the National Crime Agency launched a new campaign stating that Child Protection Officers investigate a new case involving sexting every day,

A ChildLine survey of 13-18 year olds showed that 60% had received requests to share sexual images or videos of themselves, 40% had created an image or video of themselves and 25% of everyone questioned had sent them to someone else.

Perhaps most worryingly, the survey’s findings revealed that 15% of the teenagers had sent sexual messages to a stranger who was completely unknown to the child.

Why do people sext?

With the technology so readily available, many young people will share images of themselves to friends and boyfriends/girlfriends without a moment’s thought. Young people may feel they can trust someone but do not consider what might happen to these images once a friendship or relationship ends.

Sexting also happens when young people are put under pressure. Vulnerable young people may often feel it is easier just to ‘give in’ to somebody who keeps asking for things and it can be difficult to say “no” to someone, particularly someone in a position of authority.

What problems does sexting create?

Once an image has been shared on the internet, it leaves the young person’s control and can be immediately copied and shared by others, making it impossible to take back. Sexting can cause or be a symptom of all types of problems, such as:

  • Being grooming for sexual abuse

An abuser may share images and pressure a child for sexual images of themselves in order to build an emotional connection and gain a child’s trust for the purposes of later sexual abuse.

  • Bullying

Sexual images might be sent around a young person’s school and could end up being seen by almost anyone – friends, family or even potential employers. This can lead to a child being bullied or can make an existing bullying situation even worse.

  • Blackmail

There are organised criminal gangs that pose online and pressure teens to share explicit images of themselves before threatening to share images to their friends and family unless they are sent money.

  • Criminal record

It is an offence to possess and send indecent photos of children – even for a child taking a photo of themselves. If a person aged over 10yrs old shares an indecent image then they could be arrested – even if it was just shared with friends.

The CPS try to avoid prosecutions of children for sexting but each investigation does result in a crime report being filed on the Police National Database which stays there for at least ten years – and could potentially be disclosed to future employers if the child wants to work with children in the future.

Emotional distress

Sexting can have a serious impact on young people’s mental well being, particularly if images are made publically available on social media or if the sexting is part of a process of grooming a child to be abused.

Children can feel embarrassed and humiliated. If they are very distressed this could lead to self-harm. There have been some very sad cases of teenagers committing suicide after having sexual images were exposed to school friends and family.

In 2014/15, ChildLine conducted over 1,200 counselling sessions related to sexting. However, many more young people will not have reported their concerns to anyone.