Is Sexting fun?

Sexting has been in the headlines more and more recently and it is clear that it can result in very grave consequences. Sexting is often spontaneous but its consequences can be long lasting and devastating.  It has been identified as a serious risk for young people and can lead to shame, fear, blackmail or even criminal exploitation. What is sexting? Sexting is when someone sends or receives a sexually explicit text, image or video on their mobile phone, usually in a text message. Why is it so serious? One tap and it’s gone! When the message or the image has been sent, control has been lost. Both are very easy to forward and can be copied – without your consent or knowledge. Before you send anything to anyone a good question to ask is – would you mind your Mum seeing it? 24/7 If you have a smartphone you generally have it with you 24/7 so you can send and receive messages all the time. As with most things this has good and bad points. In terms of sexting, the risk is greater because it’s so easy to send a sext. More worryingly, you are more accessible so you can constantly come under pressure from someone to send a sext – there is no respite. The law If a sext has been shared without your consent, you can take action to protect yourself and your reputation. Too often people feel ashamed and would rather pretend it hadn’t happened. Whilst this is understandable, positive action is often the best course of action because the situation can escalate quickly. Sexting can have criminal and civil consequences (in addition to the psychological damage it can cause) and it is important to understand what these are. Criminal law Indecent image or videos If you have any indecent images or videos of somebody who is under 18 years old you would technically be in possession of an indecent image of a child – even if you are the same age.  Further, if you share images or videos of somebody who is under 18 years old you would be committing an offence of distributing an indecent image of a child. (Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988) Revenge Porn This offence came into force in April 2015. It is an offence to disclose private sexual photographs and films without the consent of the individual depicted and with the intent to cause distress. A person charged with this offence is not taken to have intended to cause distress if that distress was merely a natural and probable consequence of the disclosure. If you were found guilty of this you can go to prison for up to two years and receive a fine. (Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015) Grossly offensive communications It is an offence to send an electronic communication which conveys a message which is grossly offensive to another person, where the message is sent with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to that person. (Malicious Communications Act 1998) Civil law Breach of Privacy and Confidence Unauthorised disclosure of a sext could be a breach of a person’s privacy and confidence – Mosley v MGN [2008] EWHC 177 and McKennitt v Ash [2008] QB 73. A person would have a clear and reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to sexts. It has long been established that a person’s sex life is private. Consideration should also be given to a person’s Article 8 rights to privacy. Breach of Copyright The creator of a photograph automatically becomes the owner of the copyright. If a person shares a sext photograph with others or posts it on a website then the creator’s copyright has been infringed and they could take action. Conclusion - Still think Sexting is fun? Think before you sext! The law is slowly catching up with what is a relatively new phenomenon and there is still a lot more that needs to be done. Should you need advice please do not hesitate to contact Leanne Wheeler (Email: or Tel: 01244 230000)
Katie Mickleburgh | Associate Solicitor Leanne Wheeler | Partner