A 14-year-old boy has been added to a national police database after sending a naked picture of himself to classmate via Snapchat. The uncontrollable rise in sexting amongst children must be tackled, but is punishment the right solution?
Although the unnamed boy was not arrested or charged, the incident – which the police became aware of after the girl shared the image with friends in the school – has been recorded in a crime report and will attach to the boys file for at least 10 years. The record will show up in future Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks and may impact on his ability to secure employment,particularly if that employment involves working with vulnerable groups, including children.
Snapchat allows images to be sent to an individual or a group, but which can only be viewed for a short time, determined by the sender, before disappearing. The images can be captured by a screen-shot, however, and re-shared without the knowledge or consent of the sender.
The making and distributing of indecent images is a serious offence. Also at risk of further criminal sanctions is the female recipient of the image. Although receiving an image is not in itself a crime, the sharing of that image without the consent of the subject and with a view to causing distress to the subject, will trigger the revenge porn laws introduced in April.
Sexting is increasingly commonplace with young people, although incidents involving school-age children have been rarely reported. When addressing the problem, some questions have rightly been raised about the best and most practical way to deal with it.
A punishment to fit the crime
In the present case, a semi-permanent record of a potentially isolated incident during such a formative time of life may seem harsh. But some of the blame might also fall to educators and parents. There is an acute lack of information around the impact social media can have on future opportunities and life in general. This is set to be addressed by parliament, but until then, principle lessons will only come from other young people, susceptible to peer pressure and a juvenile pushing of boundaries.
Schools can consider introducing or adapting existing policies or guidelines to manage online and social media use, both in and out of the school day and premises. Similar policies should be introduced to keep teachers appraised of the issue and to train them in dealing with social media problems effectively.
An immediate sense of shame or humiliation may be lesson enough, but should sexting becomes normalised and more generally acceptable in society, the boundaries between public and private acceptability will inevitably blur.
The National Crime Agency has previously reported that on average it received one report a day of a child protection issue linked to sexting incidents.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/30364433@N05/15021193310″>Snapchat</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>