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How do the police deal with offences relating to youth produced sexual imagery (‘sexting’)

‘Sexting’, defined as ‘the taking and sharing of sexual images of children by children’ is seen by many as being pretty harmless. However, in the eyes of the law, it is illegal.

Doing any of the following means that you’ll probably be deemed to be breaking the law:

  • Take an explicit photograph or video of yourself or a friend
  • Sharing an explicit image or video of a child, even if it’s shared between children of the same age
  • Possessing, downloading or storing an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.

As the police began dealing with more and more cases like this, then potentially more young people were running the risk of receiving a criminal record which could potentially stay with them forever.

In January 2016, the Home Office launched a new outcome code (Outcome 21) to give the police more discretion when handling crimes such as this. It was believed that allowing the police to record that a crime had been committed without needing to take any formal action, would reduce the criminalisation of many children.

In their guidance, the College of Policing state:

Outcome 21 may be considered the most appropriate resolution in youth produced sexual imagery cases where the making and sharing is considered non-abusive and there is no evidence of exploitation, grooming, profit motive, malicious intent or it being persistent behaviour.

Importantly, offences recorded in this way will not be disclosed on any type of criminal record check that is carried out for employment purposes in the future.

The NSPCC and Childline have some really useful information and advice for anybody that has sent or been asked to send explicit images or videos.

For further information

  1. For practical self-help information – More information is available on our criminal record checks for employment section
  2. Discuss this with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.


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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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