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ChildLine tackling sexting with Internet Watch Foundation

Partnership to help young people remove explicit images online as survey reveals sexting is common

17 October 2013

Young people are frequently taking huge risks making and sending sexual images of themselves, also known as 'sexting'.

ChildLine and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) are joining forces to ensure young people of 17 years and under know where to turn to get sexually explicit images removed from online.

In a ChildLine survey of 13-18 year olds:

  • 60 per cent said they had been asked for a sexual image or video of themselves
  • 40 per cent said they had created an image or video of themselves
  • 25 per cent said they had sent an image or video of themselves to someone else

Sexual images and videos received and sent
by strangers

Over half of the young people surveyed by ChildLine said they had received a sexual photo or video, most received them from a partner but a third received them from a stranger.(1)

Whilst most said the image went to a boyfriend or girlfriend, a third said they sent it to someone they met online but didn't know in real life and 15 per cent said they had sent it to a total stranger.

Sexting and sharing of images is 'mundane'

Labelled as 'sexting', the sharing of self-generated sexually explicit images or videos by mobile phone or online is now commonplace amongst young people to the point that it is considered 'mundane'.(2 and 3)

James*, 17, revealed that he continues to engage in sending and receiving images, despite the risks:

"Sexting is really pretty normal at my age. It seems like everyone's doing it. There are definitely risks involved.

"Someone saw a video message I had sent to a previous girlfriend, took a screen shot and posted it online. They called me a pervert and lots of people I knew saw it.

"I was completely devastated and, to be honest, almost suicidal. I've never pressured anyone into sexting, and when any girl I've been seeing hasn't been interested I've been fine with that. There are some people though who will put pressure on you.

"I do worry about who is behind the phones of the people I sext with - obviously if you don't know the person in real life there's no guarantee that they are who they say they are.

"There is also a big risk around the ages of the girls you contact. Of course you can ask, but there's no proof that they're telling the truth."

ChildLine committed to tackling increasing trend
of sexting

Since NSPCC commissioned research uncovered a worryingly increasing trend for 'sexting' and a fear amongst young people of turning to adults for help when things go wrong, ChildLine has been committed to providing young people with support to tackle the issue.

ChildLine will work with the IWF when explicit online image is reported by:

  1. ChildLine will request verification of the name and date of birth of the young person pictured by
    • obtaining scanned copies of official photographic ID, or
    • verification from a school, social worker or police liaison officer.
  2. If it is necessary to seek verification of age without photographic ID, the reason for this request will remain confidential.
  3. ChildLine will complete an IWF referral form including a link to the image or video to be removed. Reports made to the IWF are confidential.
  4. On receipt of the referral form, the IWF team assess the report against UK law.
  5. IWF contacts the police and either the hosting company or relevant global hotline to ensure the online image is removed.

ChildLine have also developed their first app for young people designed to provide tools to defuse the pressures to send an explicit image.

Called 'Zipit' the app offers witty images to send instead of explicit ones, advice for how to engage in safe chat, what to do if you feel threatened or if an image becomes public and a direct link to call ChildLine. The app will be available later this month.

Peter Liver, Director of ChildLine Services, said:
"In contrast to the scale of the problem, few young people are calling ChildLine to talk about the issue, whether for fear of being judged or being reported to the authorities. Most common contacts to ChildLine are when the issue has escalated beyond their control.

"It is essential we are able to support young people to talk to ChildLine before an issue escalates but also that we are able to help them to deal with removing images from online.

"The sharing of these images does not necessarily happen in isolation, it can be related to other online issues such as cyber bullying and draw from influences such as celebrity and easy access of online pornography.

"Our partnership with the IWF means that we can help young people to verify their age before logging a complaint to get the image removed swiftly and efficiently.

"With the constant rise in smart technology being made available to young people, the self-generating and sharing of sexually explicit images is not a 'fad' that will go away.

"We know that threatening young people with the consequences of their actions is not the most impactful way to engage them, in a similar way as telling them not to drink or smoke.

"The app means we are providing young people with a tool to help them deal with or remove the pressure to engage in it."

Susie Hargreaves, IWF CEO said:
"We're delighted to be partnering with ChildLine as we have sadly tracked a marked rise in self-generated sexual content featuring young people.

"A snapshot study conducted by IWF analysts over a 47 hour period found well over 12,000 self-generated images and videos of young people online. Most recently, we see images and videos being gathered together and sold for commercial gain.

"The IWF works strictly within UK law; we have to be certain that the image features someone under the age of 18 which is why this partnership with ChildLine is all the more important to ensure we can receive the information to remove explicit content as soon as possible."

*Names have been changed to protect identity.


Notes to Editors

About ChildLine
ChildLine offers children and young people aged 18 and under free, confidential advice and support 24 hours a day - no problem is too big or small.

Our trained volunteer counsellors can be contacted through our helpline 0800 1111 or on the ChildLine website for online chat or email. ChildLine is a service provided by the NSPCC.

Don't wait until you're certain. Contact the NSPCC if you are worried about a child
Contact trained NSPCC helpline counsellors for 24/7 help, advice and support on 0808 800 5000.

We also have advice for parents on talking talk to children about sexting and how to keep safe.

About the Internet Watch Foundation
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was established in 1996 by the internet industry to provide the UK internet Hotline for the public and IT professionals to report criminal online content in a secure and confidential way.

The hotline service can be used anonymously to report content within our remit:

  • child sexual abuse images hosted anywhere in the world;
  • criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK;
  • non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK.

The IWF is a self-regulatory body with charitable status. It is part of the UK Safer Internet Centre. Find out more about the IWF reporting process.

About Zipit
Developed in collaboration with young people from the NSPCC, Young Stonewall and Livity, the app is aimed at young people aged 14 years and above. Zipit will be available in app stores later this month.


  1. This was a self-selecting survey and may not be representative of the population as a whole. However, the results are comparable with other studies.
  2. Ringrose, at al. (2012) A Qualitative Study of Children, Young People and 'Sexting.' A report prepared for the NSPCC. [Accessed 7 October 2013].
  3. Phippen, A. (2012) Sexting: An Exploration of Practices, Attitudes and Influences. [Accessed 7 October 2013].

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