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Cyberbullying and Sexting

Safe use of the internet: Cyberbullying and Sexting

The information below is drawn from CEOP, Childline, and, The UK Council for Internet Safety and various educational professional bodies.


Cyberbullying usually occurs out of school but can easily impinge into pupils’ school lives.  A hurtful text, SMS message or image can be deliberately used to hurt another pupil’s feelings, and on occasions, other young people join in the messaging.  Beatbullying’s research in 2009 and 2012 highlighted that most on-line bullying took place between pupils who know each other in the off-line world which is why it often intrudes into school.

The school’s response will be to assess the situation and act accordingly on the principle of supporting the victimised pupil and seeking to prevent further negative contact.  This will usually necessitate involving parents in managing their child’s use of their mobile phones and other communications technology.  As with reported cases of bullying, the process will usually be managed by the Head of Year with Senior Staff support.  Pupils can expect to have their mobile devices confiscated in instances of cyberbullying.


Sexting can be defined as when someone sends or receives a sexually explicit text, image or video on their mobile phone, usually in a text/SMS message, although there are other methods of sending such material such as Snap Chat and Instagram. It is currently a significant issue nationwide, particularly amongst younger teenagers, where the areas of consent and trust between the children involved are most likely to be compromised.  It is not a gender-neutral practice: recent NSPCC research evidence (2102) suggests that girls are more adversely affected by the risks than boys.

The school promotes the importance of safe use of the internet and the importance of pupils managing their on-line ‘footprint’ responsibly. Sexting clearly is at odds with this advice, but young people do experiment with it and can been defined in two categories:

  • Experimental Incidents: young people (under the age of 18) taking pictures to share with peers in a consensual way, with no criminal element nor intent, and with no apparent malice.
  • Aggravated Incidents: where an image is used with intent to cause harm or distress, any adult involvement, any malicious, coercive and or non-consensual use of the image.  For example, an image that is originally sent consensually between two young people gets shared amongst a wider domain causing significant distress for the young people whose image is now freely available in the public domain.

Schools are advised to consider these definitions when responding to sexting incidents.

The school’s response will occur within the framework of child protection and safeguarding practices, where the well-being of those involved is paramount.  There are clear procedures made available to all schools from professional bodies and internet safety organisations.  Where an incident of sexting comes to light, schools are advised to treat this as they would a safeguarding disclosure, making the appropriate assessments and necessary referrals and keeping records. In all cases pupils’ mobile phones will be confiscated.  In most cases the school will include parents and the police in any response.  The process will be managed by the Head of Year and Safeguarding lead in the school.

The school will record all instances of responses to sexting as part of monitoring risks to pupils, and will consider the nature of the incident prior to involving appropriate external agencies, including the police, social services, child protection and counselling.

Sexting and the Law

If a young person under the age of 18 engages in sexting by creating an explicit photo or video of themselves then they have potentially created an image of child abuse. By sending this content on to another person, they have distributed an image of child abuse. By receiving content of this kind from another young person, they are then in possession of an image of child abuse.  Crimes involving indecent images of a person under the age of 18 fall under Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act, 1978 and Section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

The Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated that young people engaging in sexting should not face prosecution as first time offenders, but the situation will be investigated to ensure the young people involved are not at risk. Repeat offenders and more extreme cases are reviewed differently, still with a focus on avoiding prosecution unless absolutely necessary.

What other risks are there?

  • Reputation damage: with young people connecting via a wide range of technologies and social media sites, sexting content can be distributed to other users very quickly. This prevents the young person from controlling where the content is posted. This can result in damage to a young person’s reputation in their school or local community, and in online communities. As content posted online can potentially exist forever in the public domain, this can have longer term effects on a young person’s reputation and aspirations.
  • Emotional and psychological damage: the distribution of sexting content to others can cause distress and upset to the young person involved, especially if the content is distributed by someone they entrusted it to. The effects of others seeing this content can lead to negative comments and bullying, and may result in a young person losing confidence or self-esteem, and in extreme cases can lead to depression and other risks.

Wider issues

This briefing focuses on the school’s response to two distinct e-safety matters which intrude into pupils’ school life.  Pupils’ on-line life will be more active outside school and more likely to pose greater risks.  It is with this in mind that parents’ attention is drawn to the links to organisations dedicated to supporting children and young people and their parents/carers.  There is a wide range of resources, including leaflets, videos, and links to other related websites which will provide extensive and detailed guidance.

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