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SafetoNet: Handling sexting in schools

OpinionSecondary Education
By Heather McLean | 25 July 2017
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Create DateJuly 25, 2017
Last UpdatedJuly 25, 2017

By Sharon Pursey, co-founder, SafetoNet.

According to the NSPCC, almost half of children have been involved in sexting, and more worryingly, 15% of sexting teens send images or videos to complete strangers. As a teacher, it’s a topic which fills even the most stout-hearted with absolute dread, but you can be sure that the consequences of ignoring it are much, much worse.

In 2016, The National Crime Agency saw 864 reported incidences of cyber-enabled blackmail, which included sextortion. Sextortion is where young people are lured into performing sexual acts on their webcams or smartphones, only to be threatened with the sharing of a recording unless they pay or complete other tasks. Tragically, at least four of these incidents have ended in young men committing suicide.

From a young adult’s perspective, sexting can also – rightly or wrongly – be something of a rite of passage, like drinking for the first time or learning to drive. However, explicit images of under-18s are illegal, so this rite of passage runs the risk of putting a young person on the sex offender’s register, which can cause psychological harm as well as damaging future travel and employment prospects.

There is a whole host of useful resources and help available from the likes of the Internet Watch Foundation and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP), which is part of the National Crime Agency, in tackling sexting.

However, prevention is better than cure. Many teachers worry about giving sex education lessons, but they’re essential and discussing issues like sexting should certainly be part of this process. As well as introducing the basics of how sexting can arise and the harmful consequences, teachers should look to arm pupils with ‘get outs’ that allow them to save face when someone from their peer group is pressuring them for sexually explicit content. This can include humorous apps like Zipit, which contains a bank of witty and inoffensive comebacks to stave off unwanted attention.

As a teacher, you should know who your Designated Safeguarding Person is (DSP, formerly the Child Protection Officer) and in the event of an incident, get them to record everything, even if the police aren’t involved. If a pupil does come to you for help, know your school’s policy, but also remember to:

Gather information. Find out what they shared, where and with who. A sext sent to one person will be handled differently to one posted on an external social network – and in the latter case having this information will allow your IT team to block a site from school computers

Don’t always confiscate the device. DSPs can confiscate and search a mobile device if they believe that there are indecent images on it, but should never do this if it’ll cause stress. You should never look at the image unless there is a clear, established and well-documented reason to

Aggravation or Experimental Sexting. Learn whether this case is experimental or aggravated. Experimental sexting is usually romantic, exploratory or attention seeking, whereas ‘aggravated’ cases either have an adult involved, have intent to harm or are simply reckless. The latter will almost always need to involve the police

Implement a risk assessment and containment plan. This should include looking at the potential spread of content, counselling for students, possible contact with parents / guardians and informing other staff to contain the problems

This is not exhaustive, and any strategy should fit your own school and be agreed in conjunction with the local police force, authorities and support groups. Sexting will never be an easy problem to handle, but with a pragmatic, straightforward, discursive stance, it can be tackled effectively, protecting children and young adults from harming themselves and their futures.

SafeToNet protects your family from online harm by identifying and blocking harmful content, complete with expert advice and guidance.


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