Sexting – So What? Campaign spells out the law on under-18s

Parents and young people under the age of 18 are being targeted by a new multi-agency campaign which spells out the dangers of sexting. The aim is stop young people from getting criminal records or losing control of images.

Sexual, naked or semi-naked images – either selfies or of someone else – can break the law. Did you know, nobody is legally allowed to take, send, receive or share such images of anyone under the age of 18?


The message being sent to parents and young people

Devon and Cornwall Police says both males and females are victims as well as perpetrators of sexting offences.

It says it is ‘working hard to avoid criminalising young people’ and is doing everything it can to educate both young people and their parents.

Sexting is believed to be an under-reported offence – even though the potentially dangerous practice is increasing among under-18s. While the majority of young people are not sexting, those who are could live to regret it.

Police point out: “If something has gone wrong and a person has lost control of an image, it is important that they speak to someone they trust.

“This increase has highlighted why it is important to educate young people about the potential consequences of sexting and to encourage parents to have open and honest conversations with their children about it.”

The Sexting – So What? campaign will see messages go out to parents via Facebook and Twitter and to young people via Instagram.  Print materials will also be used to extend the reach of the safety messages outside of the digital world. Information will also be shared via Exeter City Community Trust at the Exeter City Football Club headquarters during the club’s summer holiday activities for young people.

Superintendent of Local Policing, Exeter, East and Mid-Devon, Matt Lawler, said: “Education and safeguarding is at the forefront of all we do with young people as a police force.  We want to reassure young people and their parents that we are here to help when you need us.

“Technology has become ever more advanced and available.  This is why our sexting campaign is so important.  By educating young people and parents around sexting and the potential consequences of sending these types of images, we are trying to encourage people make better choices and avoid the damaging effects of sending a message and then immediately regretting it.

Non-judgemental help available

Superintendent Lawler added: “We also provide non-judgemental assistance to those who have posted sexual imagery.

“Our main message to young people is this: when you press send, you lose control of that image, where it ends up on the internet and who sees it. The best way to stay safe is not to send images in the first place.”

Justin Quick, Chief Operating Officer at Exeter City Community Trust, said: “At Exeter City FC we come into contact with thousands of young people and parents every year, through both the football club and our partner charity CITY Community Trust. We are pleased to be able to support this campaign and help raise awareness and educate young people about the issues around sexting”.

Steve Shepherd, of Safer Internet UK, added: “Children and young people are entering an increasingly complex world. We must acknowledge that taking risks and experimenting is part of growing up and learning.

“It is vitally important to educate them, parents and professionals around how digital technologies work. It’s also important that if a child or young person does make a mistake and comes to a parent or professional, then they are able to support and safeguard them in a positive way.”

Sexting ‘a growing concern’

Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly said: “Sexting is a growing concern as most young people now have, or have access to, a mobile device.

“It is important that young people understand the law surrounding sexting and the consequences it can have.

“As a parent myself, I feel it is also vital that parents and guardians have an understanding of the topic and are provided with the correct tools and information to proactively talk to their children about the issue.  This campaign provides useful information for both young people and adults, as well as signposting to help if needed.”

At the top of this feature, you will find a video about a female victim of sexting. You can access a male boyfriend’s story here: Male boyfriend

Advice for parents about sexting

The Sexting – So What campaign advises parents to talk to children about sexting, the law and the potential dangers of sexting. It points out

  • Nine out of 10 selfies end up somewhere else on the internet – when you press send, you lose control
  • It’s illegal to take, send or receive ‘sexts’ of anyone under 18, including selfies.
  • Not all teenagers are doing it, even if that’s what they tell their friends
  • If they’ve done it and it’s gone wrong, they should speak to an adult they trust

If it has happened:

  • Stay calm and support your child
  • Take the device, don’t screenshot, don’t forward on
  • Remember: it is illegal, but the police and other partners such as Safer Internet UK will always help young people and safeguard them in the first instance

Where to get help:

  • Parents and carers can get more information, with links to help and support, from Devon & Cornwall Police by visiting
  • Young people can get more information, with links to help and support, from Devon & Cornwall Police by visiting
  • Further information and advice for professionals can be found at or by signing up to our newsletter

The campaign is a joint project between the police, the OPCC, Safer Internet UK, and Exeter City Football Club.


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