Tuesday, March 28News For London

What does the law say about underage sexting?

Sexting is sending indecent images of yourself or others or sending sexually explicit messages. Sexting is commonly known as “trading nudes”, “dirties” or “pic for pic”. 

 The term ‘indecent images’ includes: 

  • naked pictures;
  • topless pictures of a girl;
  • pictures of genitals;
  • sex acts including masturbation; and
  • sexual pictures in underwear.

The Protection of Children Act of 1978 states it is an offence to take, make, have or publish photographs of a child (under 18).  This includes selfies; if you’re a teenager and take an indecent photograph of video of yourself, you are committing the offence: producing indecent imagery of a child”. 

If you are under 18, and you take a sexually explicit image of yourself, you have committed the offence of making and possessing that image. If you then send that image to another person, you have committed a further offence of sharing the image. The person who receives the image would also be liable for the offence of possession. If a phone is used, whoever pays that phone bill may also be liable for it’s content, such as a parent – even if its not their phone.

In January 2016, a new code in law was introduced known as ‘Outcome 21’. Outcome 21 enables the police to have your information on a policing system and record a sexting incident with no further investigation. Outcome 21 is issued in cases such as, if the incident was consensual between both parties and there was no evidence of malicious intent. You won’t be charged with this outcome, meaning you won’t have a criminal record, but the police can still keep your information and details of the incident on their system.

What do I do if I’ve sent a sext and it’s gotten out of hand?

Perhaps someone has broken your trust and shared what you have sent them. Whatever it is, don’t panic! It’s not the end of the world. You just need to take some steps to help minimise the effect of your action. 

Firstly, it’s important to get support from your family, friends or school. Telling your parents might sound daunting, but it’s important to deal with it sooner than later. 

If a sexually explicit image of you has ended up on social media, it’s important to get it removed as soon as possible. You can do this by reporting the image on the site by flagging that it breaks their terms and conditions. If you’ve sent it personally to someone, such as a girlfriend or boyfriend, you need to get them to delete it to remove the risk of it being shared further in the future.

If someone is pressuring you to get naked online, or to send sexually explicit media of yourself to them, you should report it to the police to protect yourself and prevent them from targeting others in the future. Even if you have already sent them images, you will be treated as victim. The police have experience dealing with these incidents, and will help you get the support you need. 

Remember, the police’s priority is to protect victims and find those who profit from underage sexual images. Here are some organisations you can contact for support and advice:

  • Marie Collins Foundation – a charity supporting children who have suffered sexual abuse and exploitation online 
  • National Crime Agency CEOP – A NCA command working with child protection partners across the UK to identify and eliminate threats to children.
  • Childline – 0800 1111 – A telephone line for children to call for support.
  • Stop It Now! – A child abuse prevention campaign and anonymous helpline for individuals worried about their own or others sexual thoughts or behaviour towards children.
  • Gov.uk – Guidance for young people on indecent images.

FACT CHECK QUIZ – True or false?

1. If I send a sexually explicit image to someone it’s ok if it’s a selfie taken and sent with my consent, even if I’m under 18 years old.

2. I can legally have sex at 16, so I can take sexual pictures of myself too.

3. The law around sexting means that if I’m under 18 my actions could be recorded as a crime on the policing system.

4. If someone under 18 sends me an indecent image of themselves, even if I’m under 18, it is an offence to keep it on my phone even with the other’s consent.

5. My phone is my personal, locked property even if my parents pay the bill.



The Protection of Children Act 1978 rules it an offence to receive, have or share indecent images of anyone under the age of 18 even if the images were received with the consent of the young person involved.


While the age of consent is 16, the age in relation to indecent images is 18.


If there was no malicious intent, you will not have a criminal record but the incident and your information will be recorded on the policing system.


It is illegal to possess sexually explicit images of a person under 18, even if you are also under 18 and it is with both parties’ consent.


The person who is liable for its content is whoever pays the bill, for example, a parent.