Sexting: Perpetrator or Victim?

Last week The Today Programme on Radio 4 featured the story of a 14 year old boy who had gained a ‘note’ on his criminal record, which may affect any future application for DBS, for sending a naked picture of himself to a 14 year old girl he was flirting with.  There is a serious question here who is the victim, who is the perpetrator or are both children, both?

Sexting is a growing practice, mainly among teens and young adults. The OED defines it as ‘to send (someone) sexually explicit photographs or messages, via mobile phone.’ It is against the law to send or share indecent images of a child (someone under 18). However, this is becoming common practice. The Child Line website ( lists lots of reasons why people might feel the need to do this. The 14 year old boy when interviewed by the BBC felt it was Ok ‘because lots of people were doing it’. But it is not OK.

The 14 year old boy sent a picture of himself, so he can’t be a victim, so is he a perpetrator? The girl was the same age, so was she a victim?  It would appear so, and the logging on the police central database would confirm this view. However, as the girl shared the picture with others, is she the perpetrator and the boy the victim?  The logging of her name on the police central computer, would suggest she is a perpetrator, as well as the victim. If the boy had sent a picture of someone else, not himself, would he have been the abuser or the victim? If he sent his naked picture to a younger child, he would have been the abuser. If he had been forced to send it to someone older, he would have been the victim.  Further, if both parties are over 18, the law would not be interested and it would not have been logged under either name and neither would have been regarded as either perpetrator or victim.  It is all very confusing and subjective. As one of the BBC’s ‘talking heads’ said it is all to do with age.

But I think that there is something more. It is a concern about the disconnect between acceptable behaviour online and in ‘the real world’. In ‘the real world’, I am sure that this young man would not have pulled his trousers down in a public space and shown a girl he fancied his willy. If he had done so, it would have raised serious safeguarding concerns and led to police and social care involvement. But this young man and thousands like him feel that this is OK online.  Why?

We, as educator and parents, have a role here. We need to work with children and young people so they link their online behaviour and their ‘real world’ behaviour. We need to ensure that, in an age appropriate manner, we need ensure that are very aware of the possible impact of anything that they post or share online, including on their phone. This is a requirement under Keeping Children Safe in Education (Sept 2015). We need to make sure our children know and understand that if they send indecent images of any kind they are potentially breaking the law and this could impact on their future. But even more, we need to help them understand that if they wouldn’t do it in ‘real life’, it is not acceptable online.

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