The sexting panic has got to stop

Apparently, even seven-year-olds aren’t exempt from the state’s creepy obsession with our private lives. According to new statistics, gathered over a four-year period, 25 police forces have investigated almost 3,500 cases of sexting among under-18s, and have charged 51 people.

While, thankfully, the eight reported cases involving children under the age of 10 did not result in prosecution, it is absurd that any young person could be considered an offender for sending a sext. Let’s be clear: it should concern us that children and teenagers are sending semi-clad photos of themselves to each other. But it is not for the police to assume the role of parent by intervening in unwise but, in most cases, harmless instances of sexting among children and teenagers. We should trust children to navigate their way through their early relationships independently, and trust parents to be there for them if things go wrong. The state shouldn’t get a look in.

Childline has dedicated a page on its website to the issue, reassuring teens that, ‘if you’re both under 18 and in a healthy relationship, it’s unlikely the police would want to take things further’. But this is a bit of a strange distinction to make. Who is to decide what is ‘healthy’ sexting and what isn’t? The legislation is confused to say the least. A few years back, a 14-year-old boy was questioned by police on suspicion of ‘creating an indecent image’ of himself.

The state should butt out of kids’ private lives and leave it to parents to step in if lines are crossed. Allowing young people the space to explore their own relationships is important. They know the rules and they’ll learn to forge their own boundaries. Peering over their shoulders and prosecuting them for sexting only sends them the message that relationships are inherently dangerous, perhaps even criminal. That’s a terrible lesson to teach young people.

Emily Dinsmore is a writer and student.

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