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Journal of Nursing Research and Practice

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Safeguarding children and young people in the online environment: Safeguarding implications in respect of sexting and associated online behaviour

Author(s): Sue Murray*

Between November 2014 and 2017, police forces across the United Kingdom reported a 131% (England and Wales) and 60% (Scotland) rise in the recorded indecent communications online or via texts since the inception of the Sexual Offences Act (England, 2003: Scotland, 2010). Nurses, social workers, educationalists and allied health professionals, have received minimal training in respect of sexting, resulting in missed opportunities to identify those at risk of online sexual exploitation. Deliberation continues regarding the risks associated with such communications and the necessity for vigilance in protecting those at risk. This article reviews literature and legislation to consider the extent by which sexting should cause concern, characteristics of perpetrators and victims, risk reduction, and the appropriateness of criminalising young participants. Literature suggests misappropriated sexting places vulnerable individuals in danger of sexual extortion, bullying and mental ill-health, and that adolescent females are at greater risk than males of being coerced into sexualised behaviour. Associations between prevalence of sexting and inappropriate sexual behaviour are noted, with limited parental and professional awareness of the subject compounding young peoples’ vulnerability. The article questions the validity of criminalising consensual sexting and considers an educational and supportive approach to be more appropriate.

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