Sexting has become more and more prevalent in recent years, and you may have noticed it hitting headlines when it gets abused.

We live in a time where almost every child has access to a smartphone, computer or tablet – whether it’s their own or within the home for general use. Because of this, sexting and sextortion are risks for all children, including primary school age.

The access is there, so safeguarding against this depends on the knowledge of the issue and the signs that a child might be at risk.

So what actually is sexting?

When people talk about sexting they are usually referring to sexual or naked pictures (or ‘nudes’), or any sexual messages or videos being sent from one person to another. They can be sent to friends, partners, or anyone you’ve met online, via text, instant messengers, email, social media or any communication channel.

But, as you can imagine, sexting can go very wrong if pictures or messages are seen or shared by the wrong people.

This is where sextortion (webcam blackmail) can come into play.


So what is sextortion?

The National Crime Agency (NCA) have recently launched a new awareness campaign and investigation into sextortion. Webcams are often used to chat with friends and family, but not everyone is who they say they are.

Sextortion involves victims being persuaded to perform sexual acts over a webcam by criminals who have befriended them using a fake identity – usually using an attractive girl or woman on screen to entice the victim to participate. These women may equally have been coerced into these actions, for example by using threats or financial incentives.

These webcam videos are recorded by the criminals, who threaten to share the images with the victim’s friends and family, causing extreme embarrassment and shame. This form of blackmail has already caused at least four young men in the UK to take their own lives.


What should I do if I’m concerned about this?

You should be sure to provide students with guidance on how to stay safe online, focusing especially on who to talk to and what to share. Children must also be made aware that they can and should tell someone if they feel they can’t trust someone online, or if sexual images are being shared.

This issue goes beyond just telling a teacher though. Under the Serious Crime Bill, it is now illegal in the UK for an adult to send sexual text messages or try to invite victims to communicate sexually, regardless of if the recipient of those messages replies in any sexual way.

This law applies to any person over the age of 18 trying to communicate sexually with anyone under the age of 16. This could be via SMS, email, Whatsapp, social media or any other form of communication.

Any instances of the sharing of sexual images of a minor is a criminal offence, and can be reported to the police. ‘Revenge porn’ is also an offence now, which entails the sharing of sexual images without the person’s consent in a revengeful manner.

The NCA implore people to report issues of sextortion, asking that people don’t panic, don’t communicate, don’t pay, and preserve the evidence.


How can I tell if a child is being targeted?

It can be really hard to tell if a child is the victim of a sexting or sextortion issue, simply because of the embarrassment and shame that naturally ensues with such a situation.

However, there might be some behavioural indicators which could help you identify if a child is being targeted:

  • The child might appear distressed
  • The child might be missing school
  • The child might withdraw from social contact
  • Children might be sharing information or images, or talking about images they’ve seen

It’s incredibly hard to know if this is happening, as it’s something most people will feel they can’t tell someone about, for their dignity and for their safety. But keeping an eye and ear out for signs such as these could make all the difference in identifying and helping a child in this situation.

Sexting and sextortion is less common among primary school children than it is with secondary school children – but that’s not to say it’s not important. Any child with access to an internet device could be targeted, so it’s important to know the facts and make children aware of how to stay safe online, and who they can speak to if they have a problem.

There is much more information, including guidance and legalities, available on NSPCC and NCA websites.

For specific information on what to do should a sexting or sextortion concern arise, consult your designated safeguarding lead or your school’s safeguarding policy. The NSPCC have also created a Briefing for Schools on sexting to help teachers deal with such issues.