The advent of social media and other electronic communication has seen the whole topic of virtual sexualised contact leap from social concern to the criminal justice system. In the wake of the clamour to keep up with technological development we are left with a criminal law that is piecemeal and incomplete, at risk of neither sanctioning the guilty or the dangerous, nor forgiving the youthful or naïve.
Criminal law often turns to the law of malicious or improper communications, in particular in relation to messages that are indecent or grossly offensive. Some more serious cases might also be covered by offences under the Sexual Offences Act, including causing or inciting sexual activity in a child.
For parents of children who have engaged in peer to peer sexualised contact the involvement of the police can be terrifying and bewildering. There is a vital balance between essential child protection and allowing the immaturity of youth to explore the boundaries of sexual development without criminalising your child. Diversion from criminalisation, the effect on future employability, the sex offenders register, and the impact on schooling or university are all examples of the real topics we assist parents and their children with during such cases. In a world where sexting and the exchange of intimate pictures amongst young people has become commonplace, a sense of proportion and understanding has become a vital if often forgotten feature in the discretionary behaviour of the police and other authorities.