View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

The Research Brief: inside Britain’s “teenage sexting epidemic”

Your weekly dose of policy thinking.

By Spotlight

Welcome to the Research Brief, where Spotlight, the New Statesman’s policy section, brings you the pick of recent publications from the government, think tank, charity and NGO world. See more editions of the Research Brief here.

What are we talking about this week? A survey conducted by the cybersecurity firm ESET, looking into what researchers have labelled Britain’s “teenage sexting epidemic”. This is where under-18s create and share intimate images with each other. The creation, possession and distribution of indecent images of anyone aged under 18 is illegal, even if the content is created with the consent of an underaged individual.

How much of an epidemic is this “sexting epidemic”? According to the research, two fifths of Britons have shared an intimate image online while underage. The survey had 2,004 respondents, half of whom were under 18. According to the research, the average age that a child receives their first sexual image is 14, and 39 per cent of respondents reported sharing their first explicit image while being underage. “These figures are concerning for a number of reasons,” said Jake Moore, global cybersecurity adviser at ESET. “We need to make sure young people are acutely aware of how permanent a digital image is, and how much power you are handing over to another person by sharing intimate images of yourself.”

What else did the research reveal? Despite the laws over explicit images of minors being nearly 50 years old (covered by the Protection of Children Act 1978), the survey suggests that people are unaware of its application to a digital context. Almost half (44 per cent) of respondents surveyed said that they were unaware it was illegal to incite or encourage someone to send sexual images if they themselves were under 18. 

Sounds complicated. Yes, and it gets even trickier. Another serious issue associated with sharing intimate images is “revenge porn”, when images are maliciously spread without an individual’s consent to cause them embarrassment, humiliation or distress. Though legislation has been passed more recently to explicitly ban the practice – it’s now listed as a sexual offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine – the survey shows it’s still a problem. Of the 39 per cent of people who reported sharing an intimate image while underage, over a quarter (28 per cent) reported having their image misused, either by the recipient sharing it or threatening to post it online.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Further responses reveal how young people are often pressurised to share images, and would likely feel fear or shame if they were a victim of image-based sexual abuse. They also appear to have little faith in the law holding those who misuse images to account. The polling shows that 16 per cent of under-18s who shared intimate content felt pressured to do so, and one in ten said someone had manipulated them into doing so. Only a quarter of minors who have sent intimate content said they would go to the police if someone posted it online, less than half (39 per cent) said they would tell their parents, and nearly a fifth (18 per cent) said they would not contact anyone.

What do the experts advise, for young people and parents? “The most important message we should be getting across to children is that they are [often] being manipulated or victimised in these situations, so they should feel entitled to ask for support and help,” said the psychologist, Dr Linda Papadopoulos, in reaction to the survey. She added that worried parents should feel confident to “have the conversation about sexting” with their child, be “supportive rather than accusatory”, and help them “normalise saying no in situations they may find uncomfortable”.

In a sentence? Sexting is endemic among teenagers – more must be done to protect them from image-based sexual abuse, and to reiterate that meaningful action will be taken if they report instances of “revenge porn” to the police.

Read the full report from ESET here.

Content from our partners
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International
Time for Labour to turn the tide on children’s health
How can we deliver better rail journeys for customers?

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU