More than 6,000 children under 14 have been investigated by the police for sexting offences

Figures obtained by way of the Freedom of Information Act requests from 27 police forces by the Guardian newspaper showed that 6,499 children under the age of 14 were investigated for taking or sharing indecent images of themselves or other minors between 1 January 2017 and 21 August 2019. Of that number, 306 investigations were into children under 10 years of age, the youngest child being four years of age. Although limited information is available regarding the nature of incidents, one involved a child of 9 sending a naked selfie of himself via Facebook messenger and a girl of nine years old was reported as an offender for sending a naked image of herself to someone on Instagram. It is thought that the majority of investigations relate to sexting (the ‘consensual’ exchange of explicit messages). Only 30 cases resulted in a charge, caution or summons for the child.

The law

Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 provides that it is an offence to:

  • “Take, or permit to take, any indecent photograph of a child;
  • To distribute or show such indecent photograph;
  • To have in his possession such indecent photograph with a view of their being distributed or shown by himself or others”

Section 2(3) and 7(5) of the Act define a child as “a person under the age of 18.”

In addition, section 15A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 addresses sexual communication with a child, and provides that “A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if:-

  • For the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, A intentionally communicates with another person (B);
  • The communication is sexual or is intended to encourage B to make (whether to A or to another) a communication which is sexual, and;
  • B is under 16 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over.”

In determining whether a communication is “sexual”, it will be considered so if any part of it relates to sexual activity or if a reasonable person would, in all circumstances but regardless of any person’s purpose, consider any part of the communication to be sexual. The definition of sexual in this context is an “activity that a reasonable person would, in all circumstances but regardless of any person’s purpose, consider to be sexual”. As such the provisions of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 does not address sexting between children under the age of 18.

Guidance published by the College of Policing into police action in response to youth produced sexual imagery advocates a proportionate police response bearing in mind the impact of investigation and prosecution, and especially the implications of being labelled a “sex offender”. The Home Office requires all investigations to be allocated a crime outcome code. The guidance provides that in cases where there is no evidence of aggravating factors (i.e. no adults involved, no profit motive, exploitation, coercion, violence or malicious intent), no inappropriate sharing nor evidence of persistent behaviour, an outcome 21 crime outcome code should be utilised. By issuing such an outcome it avoids the need for further investigation and police interview, and allows other first responders / schools / neighbourhood teams to respond appropriately. An outcome 21 code states “Further investigation, resulting from the crime report, which would provide evidence sufficient to support formal action being taken against the suspect is not in the public interest – police decision.”

On the basis of the figures obtained by the Guardian, it appears that the outcome 21 crime code is being widely used and the criminal justice system engaged in only the most extreme of cases. However, given the numbers of children subject to investigation it is likely that legislative reform will be considered in the longer term in order to ensure the law keeps up with developments in technology and social media.


Written by Louise Roden at BLM

Regulating the Internet – the Online Harms White Paper consultation

There is no doubt that there is a need and a public desire for regulation of the internet and social media to protect the vulnerable. In April this year, the government published its Online Harms White Paper, which sets out its proposals to make the UK the safest country in the world to be online.  It’s described as “a world-leading package of online safety measures that also supports innovation and a thriving digital economy”, and its two top priorities are to tackle unlawful and unacceptable activity online, including Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA) online.  A consultation on the white paper is currently live, with responses due by  11.59pm on 1 July 2019.

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Positive actions regarding children and their use of the internet

In the context of repeated warnings regarding the negative impact of social media on young people the Children’s Commissioner has taken a number of actions to enable children, parents and teachers to have the required information to help children develop the skills and resilience to positively handle themselves online.

The Children Commissioner’s ‘Growing up Digital’ study called for the creation of a compulsory digital citizenship programme for school children aged 4 to 14, introducing simplified Terms and Conditions for digital services offered to children; and a new Children’s Digital Ombudsman to mediate between under 18s and social media companies.

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Update of the current IICSA investigations


Investigation Current position
Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale On 12 April 2018 the IICSA published its report. The Panel provided an Executive Summary and drew a number of  the conclusions. The Inquiry made no recommendations because they will be considering evidence that is relevant to the protection of children in the care of local authorities in the outstanding local authority as well as in some of the thematic investigation. They consider they will then be better placed to make overarching recommendations. Despite this, the Inquiry expect the public bodies involved in this investigation to reflect on their report and make changes to their practice as necessary to protect children in the future. See our earlier blog for details of the report’s conclusions:
Child Sexual Exploitation by Organised Networks The Inquiry is not accepting applications for Core Participant (CP) status or requesting evidence currently.

The Inquiry is encouraging all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to share their experience.

Accountability and Reparations A preliminary hearing took place on 8 May 2018 to provide an update on the latest developments.

Since the last preliminary hearing IICSA has granted CP status to four victim/survivors from St Aidan’s, another victim/survivor for Forde Park and another victim/survivor for Stanhope Castle.  In total there are now 41 CP victims and survivors across the case study institutions.  26 finalised statements have now been received.  It has been reiterated that the investigation will not examine or resolve disputed factual issues relating to the underlying abuse.

IICSA’s proposals for the focus of the w case studies are:

  • North Wales Children’s Homes –  civil litigation
  • Forde Park –  the overall management of the Forde Park civil litigation, and the litigation process itself, in particular how the claims were settled and how that settlement was perceived by the victims and survivors
  • St Leonard’s – as per Forde Park
  • St Aidan’s and St Vincent’s –  the process of civil litigation, in particular limitation, and how this impacted on the experiences of victims and survivors
  • Stanhope Castle –  knowledge of and access to civil litigation and criminal compensation (from the CICA).

A further and final preliminary hearing has been listed for 25 September 2018 to deal with any outstanding matters ahead of the public hearings which run from 26 November to 13 December 2018.

Children in Custodial Institutions Public hearings were held in July 2018 for 2 weeks. The investigation examined the prevalence and culture of child sexual abuse in custody as well as the institutional responses to those allegations. The current safeguarding and child protection policies were also  examined. During the hearings a selection of allegations of recent sexual abuse were analysed in relation to Her Majesty’s Young Offender Institutions at Feltham and Werrington; Medway and Rainsbrook Secure Training Centres; Vinney Green Secure Unit; and Aycliffe Secure Centre.

A report on this phase of the investigation is expected in early 2019.

The Internet A week of public hearings was held from 22-26 January 2018.

Applications will be requested for more CPs in due course. As the investigation is currently narrowly focused to consider the response of law enforcement agencies no internet specific organisation is a CP.

Investigation into the Institutional Responses to Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse involving the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC In April 2017 the Inquiry published a Notice of Determination and revised the scope of this investigation. IICSA does not wish to prejudice the investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and Leicestershire Police.

No further updates.

Children in the Care of Nottinghamshire Councils A second preliminary hearing was held on 31 January 2018.

The public hearings start on 1 October 2018.

There are currently 90 CPs including 83 individuals who allege that they were sexually abused whilst in the care of Nottinghamshire Councils.

Child Sexual Abuse in the Anglican Church The first public hearing in relation to the Chichester Diocese case study was held in  March 2018. There were twenty themes and issues being considered.

A hearing in connection with the Peter Ball case study was held last week.

A further public hearing relating the wider Anglican Church will proceed in 2019.

Child Sexual Abuse in Residential Schools Currently no CPs designated but applications are likely to be called for in September 2018. In its interim report IICSA identified it does not intend to name specific school led case studies but rather to consider themes across schools including governance, reporting and whistleblowing, recruitment and termination of employment, inspection and monitoring, and culture
Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse Linked to Westminster Three weeks of public hearings will take place from 4 March 2019.
Protection of Children Outside the UK The Panel’s report, it’s first on all of its investigations, into the Child Migration Case Study was published on 1 March 2108.  See our previous blog for details of the recommendations made:

The second case study in this investigation is examining whether the civil framework is adequate for preventing, and notifying foreign authorities of, foreign travel by individuals known to the UK authorities as posing a risk to children. A public hearing on this case study will take place in February 2019.

Children in the Care of Lambeth Council Preliminary hearings were held in this investigation in March and July 2016.

IICSA are reviewing vast quantities of information before a public hearing is scheduled. It has recently sought submissions from CPs on proposals for the investigation to focus on three case studies on the following homes: Angell Road, Southvale Assessment Centre and Shirley Oaks

Child Sexual Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church Further public hearings relating to the Archdiocese of Birmingham case study will take place from 12-16 November 2018.

Public hearings relating to the Ealing Abbey case study will commence on 4 February 2019.

Initial hearings which focused on the Benedictine Order, in particular at Ampleforth and Downside were held in November 2017. The report in connection with those hearings will be published on 9 August 2018.

MIRIAMAuthored by Miriam Rahamim, BLM

Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) to be reformed

The Health Minister has endorsed the Law Commission’s recommendations to replace the current Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) with the more robust Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS). The new regime will provide greater legal safeguards and transparency for individuals who are deprived of their liberty because they lack the mental capacity to consent to necessary care/treatment. Continue reading

The internet and child sexual abuse

On 3 April 2017, it became a criminal offence for an adult (18 or over) to conduct sexual communications with a child under 16 years old.  This was with the intention of stopping sexual grooming at an early stage, particularly via social media and mobile messaging.

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