Sharing Nudes

Safeguarding Network

February 2024 - 7 minute read

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Introduction

Remember

This information does not apply to adults sharing nudes or semi-nudes of under 18-year-olds. That is a form of child sexual abuse and must be referred to the police immediately.

Sharing photos, videos and live streams online is an everyday occurrence for many children and young people. It’s easy for anyone to share photos and videos via 1-to-1 messaging apps, social media, chat forums, gaming platforms, air-drop functions and image-sharing platforms.

Children and young people may create and share nude and semi-nude images of themselves or others for several reasons which are not always motivated by sexual or criminal intentions, or because of coercion. However, if those images are shared further it can lead to embarrassment, bullying, and a vulnerability to blackmail and exploitation.

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Not all young people send nudes and semi-nudes, but many are asked to send them or receive images and videos of others with or without consent. Research by Revealing Reality in 2022 of 15 – 18-year-olds found:

• 20% of girls and 13% of boys have sent a nude picture or video of themselves;
• 60% of girls and 31% of boys had been asked to share a nude or semi-nude;
• 54% of girls and 30% of boys had experienced someone sending them a nude or semi-nude.

Producing, possessing and sharing nudes and semi-nudes of under 18s is illegal, which makes our response a complex process. Responses may differ depending on the motivations behind the incident.

Education settings should respond swiftly and confidently to ensure children and young people are educated about the risks, supported and protected.

Definition

“The sending or posting of nude or semi-nude images, videos or live streams by young people under the age of 18 online.”

UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS)

The terms used, and their understanding, can differ between professionals, children and young people, and parents and carers. When discussing the sharing of nudes and semi-nudes, it’s important to stay up to date with the terminology used by children and young people and ensure everyone knows and understands what is being discussed.

Alternative terms used by adults include:

  • Youth-produced sexual imagery or ‘youth-involved’ sexual imagery.
  • Indecent imagery. This is the legal term used to define nude or semi-nude images and videos of people under 18.
  • ‘Sexting’. Many use this term, but some people interpret sexting as ‘writing and sharing flirty or explicit messages with people they know’ rather than sharing images.
  • Image-based sexual abuse. This term may be used when referring to the non-consensual sharing of nudes and semi-nudes.
  • ‘Revenge porn’ and ‘upskirting’ are also used to refer to specific incidents of nudes and semi-nudes being created/shared.
  • Terms such as ‘deep fakes’ and ‘deep nudes’ may also be used by adults and young people to refer to digitally manipulated and AI-generated nudes and semi-nudes.

Why do young people share nudes?

As mentioned above, children and young people may share nude images for several reasons. Nude images may be created and shared consensually by young people who are in relationships, as well as between those who are not in a relationship. It is also possible for a young person in a consensual relationship to be coerced into sharing an image with their partner.

Children and young people may also:

  • find nudes and semi-nudes online and share them claiming they are from a peer;
  • digitally manipulate an image of a young person into an existing nude online or use artificial intelligence (AI) to generate a new nude or semi-nude image of a young person;
  • create and share images that are used to abuse or blackmail others. Situations could include:
  1. selling nudes or semi-nudes of others online;
  2. coercing a peer into sharing a nude or semi-nude to blackmail them for money, further images, or force them into illegal activity;
  3. hacking a peer’s account and sharing images more widely without consent to shame others publicly.
  • create and share a nude or semi-nude with an adult who has presented themselves as someone under the age of 18 to groom, sexually abuse or blackmail them.


While we focus on the issue of sending and receiving sexual images of under 18s because it’s illegal, we must remember that unwanted rude or sexually explicit text messages or emails can be just as abusive for the recipient. We must also ensure that children and young people know what to do if they receive an inappropriate written message that upsets them.

Guidance from UKCIS says in most cases education settings may respond to incidents without involving the police, for example where an incident can be defined as ‘experimental’ and there is no evidence of abusive or aggravating elements. 

Where there are abusive and/or aggravating factors, incidents should always be referred to the police through the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) or equivalent.

Even when the police are involved, a criminal justice response and formal sanction against a child or young person would only be considered in exceptional circumstances.

The police can choose to record that a crime has been committed but that taking formal action isn’t in the public interest. Crimes recorded this way are unlikely to appear on future records or checks, unless the young person has been involved in other similar activities which may indicate that they’re a risk. This guidance provides more information about the police response to the taking and sharing of nude images by young people.

Risks

Whilst many young people consider creating and sharing nude and semi-nude images to be an acceptable activity, they often do not recognise the risks, for example:

  • lack of control of the image;
  • bullying;
  • isolation from friends;
  • defamation of character;
  • blackmail/sextortion;
  • emotional distress e.g., self-blame or shame, leading to anxiety and/or depression;
  • criminal and/or sexual exploitation;
  • unwanted attention and/or sexual harassment both online and offline;
  • stalking/grooming;
  • becoming involved with sharing the nudes of others. Be it for revenge or a “harmless joke”, sometimes children do not realise it’s illegal.

Spot the signs

  • Stress and/or anxiety.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Displaying over-sexualised behaviours.
  • Changes in academic attainment.
  • Changes in online behaviour, e.g. avoiding using devices or apps.
  • Becoming isolated.
  • Becoming secretive.
  • Being bullied.
  • Experiencing sexual harassment.
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

Additional vulnerabilities

Any child may share nude or semi-nude images. The 2020 Cybersurvey by Youth Works, Locked Down and Online, says young people with worries about their home life, an eating disorder and mental health concerns were more likely to create and share nudes and semi-nudes. Children in care (particularly those in residential care and those with interrupted care histories) and those struggling with their sexual identity are also more likely to share nudes and semi-nudes.

Young people struggling with some of these issues should have someone to talk to in the school who takes responsibility to listen to them, to talk to family and other teachers, and who can take action to keep them safe.

The Ministry of Justice says 76% of girls aged 12-18 had been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men. In a BBC report, one young woman said that when they were at school receiving nude images had become “so normalised” children and young people don’t even think about it and “just delete it” without telling anyone.

We should not rely on young people to identify their own abuse – often, they don’t know they’re being abused or feel unable to tell us.

What to do

Incidents involving sharing nudes and semi-nudes should have an immediate focus on safeguarding children.

If you have concerns or receive a disclosure that a child or young person has been involved with sharing nude or semi-nude images:

  • Report it to your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) or equivalent immediately. Do not view the imagery.
  • Follow your setting’s child protection policy and procedures.
  • Never copy, print, share, store or save the imagery, or ask a child to share or download it – this is illegal.
  • If you have already viewed the imagery by accident (e.g. if a young person showed it to you before you could ask them not to), report this to the DSL (or equivalent) and seek support.
  • Do not delete the imagery or ask the young person to delete it.
  • Do not ask the child/children or young person/people who are involved in the incident to disclose information regarding the imagery. This is the responsibility of the DSL (or equivalent).
  • Do not share information about the incident with other members of staff, the young person/people it involves or their, or other, parents and/or carers.
  • Do not say or do anything to blame or shame any young people involved.
  • Do explain to them that you need to report it and reassure them that they will receive support and help from the DSL (or equivalent).

An immediate referral to police and/or children’s social care should be made if:  

  1. The incident involves an adult. Where an adult poses as a child to groom or exploit a child or young person, the incident may first present as a child-on-child incident. 
  2. There is reason to believe that a child or young person has been coerced, blackmailed or groomed, or there are concerns about their capacity to consent (for example, owing to special educational needs). 
  3. What you know about the images or videos suggests the content depicts sexual acts which are unusual for the young person’s developmental stage, or are violent.
  4. The images involve sexual acts and any child or young person in the images or videos is under 13. 
  5. You have reason to believe a child or young person is at immediate risk of harm following the sharing of nudes and semi-nudes, for example, they are presenting as suicidal or self-harming.

Providing Support

Once a child or young person is assessed not to be at immediate risk, it may be necessary to have a conversation with them and decide the best course of action, preferably with the DSL, unless the child or young person would feel more comfortable speaking with a particular member of staff.

The child or young person should be given a sense of control over the reporting process. The DSL (or equivalent) should support the member of staff to ensure the conversation is handled appropriately, and they have the confidence to discuss the incident with the victim.

Parents and carers will also be concerned and may have difficulty dealing with the knowledge that their child has been involved in sharing nude images of themselves and/or others. They may require reassurance regarding the reporting process and advice about what to do to protect and support their child. 

You can find more information about how to support children and young people, and their parents and carers, if they have been involved in incidents of sharing nudes or semi-nudes in section 2 of the guidance from the UK Council for Internet Safety. 

Prevention

How we respond to these incidents – including incidents of ‘low-level’ harmful sexual behaviour – directly affects the culture of the setting. If handled poorly, it can normalise unsafe and unhealthy behaviours that enable child-on-child abuse and may prevent other children and young people from speaking out.

Create an environment based on equality and informed choice – help young people think about the issues and attitudes behind sending nude and semi-nude images, particularly concerning gender equality.

  • Explain the risks of sharing nudes and semi-nudes.
  • Discuss the motivations of the person who requested the image.
  • Be non-judgmental.
  • Encourage them to share their concerns with a trusted adult.

Ensure young people know the risks – talk about sharing nude and semi-nude images at an age-appropriate level from the later years of primary. The age range of people sharing nudes and semi nudes can vary due to a variety of factors, including maturity, relationship status and sexuality.

Check young people have safe relationships – in their family, with their peers and with your staff. Create an environment where it’s okay to talk even about the most difficult things.

Know the signs and know what to do – use the checklists above, your safeguarding procedures and be confident to raise sharing nudes and semi-nudes as a possibility.

Take action – and keep taking action until you know children and young people are safe.

Resources

  • Childline – Report Remove tool

  • A safe space for young people worried about sexual behaviour

  • Advice regarding the sharing of nude and semi-nude images

  • Support victims of cyberflashing

  • Sexually coerced extortion or “sextortion” – support and help

  • Not Just Flirting

  • Childline – Healthy and unhealthy relationships

  • Take It down

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