Technology

New 'sexting' guidance 'to avoid criminalising children'

A boy with a smartphone Image copyright Thinkstock

Police in England and Wales are producing new guidelines designed to avoid "criminalising" children caught sending indecent images to each other.

Under current Home Office rules any such "sexting" incident reported to the police must be recorded as a crime.

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) will advise teachers on when they should report such incidents.

It confirmed to the BBC that new guidelines were being developed but were in very early stages.

Criminal offence

Sending indecent selfies to a friend or lover using a smartphone is known as sexting.

Typically in England and Wales, producing and distributing sexual images of anybody under 18 is a criminal offence, even if two under-18s are sexting one another.

If an incident of teen sexting is reported to police, the names of those allegedly involved can be stored on the Police National Database for at least 10 years, even if no criminal charges are brought.

In 2015, a Freedom of Information request by the Sun revealed that 1,000 under-18s had been investigated by police for sexting between 2012 and 2014.

The new guidance, which will be sent to schools and police forces in England and Wales, will advise teachers on when they should report sexting to the police.

"These incidences do not need to be reported in every situation," said Deputy Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, of the NPCC.

"Parents and professionals can use their own judgement on when to involve the police."

The Sunday Times newspaper suggested that the guidance might advise that incidents involving children being blackmailed or bullied over their naked pictures were the sort of more "serious cases" where teachers might decide to involve the police.

Haunted by past

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, children's charity the NSPCC welcomed the news.

Alan Wardle, its head of policy, said: "Clearly it is an issue. It is how young people are living their lives and expressing their sexuality... we have to deal with the reality of that."

"What we don't want to be doing is necessarily criminalising 15-year-olds sending pictures of themselves in a consensual relationship... it is an issue that needs to be looked at.

"If they're going to university, they're going for jobs... they don't want something that happened when they were younger haunting them for years to come."

The police chiefs' council said it would work with schools and families to help prevent young people becoming "the victims and perpetrators of crime".

"Sexting may seem like a harmless or normal activity but there are many risks involved," said DCC Pinkney.

"It is essential that we work, alone and alongside partners such as schools and families, to intervene early."

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