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'Sexting' laws need updated

By Jim Gamble

Published 04/09/2015

Jim Gamble
Jim Gamble

Immediate changes are needed regarding how the law treats children sharing images of themselves.

The BBC reported yesterday that a 14-year-old boy, who sent a naked Snapchat of himself to a girl at school, has had the crime of making and distributing indecent images recorded against him by police.

This photo was shared among the school by the recipient. Although not formally arrested, or charged, the boy and girl could have their details stored for up to 10 years and this incident may possibly be disclosed to future employers (in the form of a DBS check).

The boy felt "embarrassed and a bit intimidated" by how the incident had been handled by police and his school.

Sadly, teen sexting is increasingly being seen as the norm by young people. But simply blaming the police for what appears to be a heavy-handed approach is wrong and overly simplistic.

The law needs to be adapted. It is not right that children who share an image of themselves are criminalised.

There is a difference in sharing, or maliciously circulating, an image of someone else and making an error of judgment by sharing one of yourself.

There are too many discrepancies within the law. If the boy was over 18 and shared an image with an adult woman who circulated it to others, she would be prosecuted for "revenge porn" and he would be protected as a victim.

People in authority need to think before they speak. How often have you heard "What goes online stays online"?

That's not always the case and there have been many instances where early intervention has removed, or buried, an image.

When a child is in crisis, panicking and losing hope, the last thing that we need to do is tell them they've committed a crime and that the image will haunt them forever.

We need to be reassuring, supportive and advocate on their behalf.

Too many young people have been left "hopeless" and desperate to the point of suicide, because the law is too blunt and "experts" have simply repeated outdated rhetoric.

Jim Gamble is CEO of INEQE Safe and Secure security consultancy

Belfast Telegraph

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