Sexting between teens and the legal consequences


A phone call and a summons into school about a Child’s “sexting behaviour “ can be deeply traumatic for all involved and have potentially life and prospective career changing consequences for the child and is obviously distressing for the parents.

The Law as it stands

Making, distributing, and possession of indecent images of children is illegal under Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 and Section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.


It is a criminal offence to take, make, permit to take, distribute, show, possess, possess with intent to distribute, or to advertise sexual images and videos of any person below the age of 18.


A criminal caution or conviction for such an offence would result in your child being placed on the Sex Offenders Register. The duration of the order will depend upon the type and length of any sentence received.


Thus a “ nude “ or “ semi-nude “ photograph sent by text,  Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or other social media apps, without much thought, or indeed malice, as a teen or pre-teen could have exceptionally serious consequences in later life. Even the recipient of any such photograph could find themselves subject to investigation for possession of an indecent image; or even worse distributing if the child chooses to forward it to a peer.


Life affecting consequences


Being investigated or interviewed by police officers for such an offence is embarrassing and carries with it an unpleasant stigma.


Research indicates that young girls often feel pressurised by their peers to take part in such activities without realising the implications. If your child has been coerced into behaving in such a way, there are other matters to consider and representations that can be made.


Any school as part of it’s safeguarding policy is obliged to carry out a proper and exhaustive investigation before and or in addition to involving the police.


If the police are notified of incidents of youth-produced sexual imagery they are obliged to record the incidents on their crime systems. The incident will be listed as a “ crime “ and the young person listed as a “suspect “.   Although this is not a formal Criminal Record, there are concerns that if this disclosed on an enhanced DBS ( The Disclosure and Barring Service ) check, it could have serious consequences.


Outcome 21 exceptions


Every Crime reported to the police must have an outcome code. In January 2016 the National


Police Chiefs Council, The Home Office and various charities agreed on a new outcome for youth-produced sexual imagery which is now known as ‘outcome 21’.


This allows the police to record a crime as having happened but for no formal Criminal Justice action to be taken,  as it is not considered to be in the public interest to do so. Although this might be considered as a positive outcome rather than a Court appearance, it cannot guarantee the offence would not appear on any enhanced DBS check.


An Outcome 21 disposal can only be used in cases where there is no evidence of exploitation or malicious intent ( eg. Extensive or inappropriate sharing ). Where those factors exist, Outcome 21 would not apply and a full police investigation may take place with the potential consequences of court proceedings, conviction and an obligation to sign the Sex Offenders Register.


If you or your child find yourself in this situation or need advice please get in touch with us at BSB Solicitors on 0207 837 3456.


The author, Harriette Black is a Barrister and consultant with BSB Solicitors.