For the first time in history, damages have been awarded to a girl who was ‘sexting’ her teacher.
What is sexting? According to the NSPCC, it is ‘the exchange of self-generated sexually explicit images, through mobile picture messages or webcams over the internet.’
In this digital age, we can send photographs at the click of a smart phone button. Whether through Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Whatsapp, we are generally so used to convenience that we rely heavily upon immediate forms of communication. This could potentially lead to rash decisions and sending messages without thought given to the implications. And, once sent, there is often no going back.
In this unprecedented case, it has been reported that the victim was encouraged by a teacher to text sexually-explicit photographs of herself to him. The 16-year-old girl developed a friendship with the teacher, in his mid-50s, who was the vice-principal and child protection officer of the school at the time. In the space of a year, a total of 18 text messages were exchanged and the victim sent 20 picture messages to the teacher in total; some of the photographs featured the victim topless, in her underwear, and naked in the bath. A handful were reportedly of an even more graphic nature. Although the teacher told the victim to delete the photographs and texts, her phone was discovered by another teacher and an arrest was made shortly afterwards.
The victim’s claim for damages was based on the argument that the teacher had encouraged her to exchange text messages and images, and that this encouragement would inevitably cause psychological harm. This case is a reminder of the potential impact of safeguarding failures and the importance of ensuring school children are protected from maltreatment and sexual abuse. Robust safeguarding processes must be in place to prevent any child from slipping through the net with warning signs identified and investigated promptly and thoroughly.
Anyone involved in ‘sexting’ another person must be certain that the other person consents to the exchange of messages of this nature and schools should ensure as part of their duties to protect their pupils that the children are told and understand these serious criminal implications.
This is a rapidly changing, new area of law which is taking centre stage under the media spotlight around these issues in schools. Although a difficult topic to tackle for teachers across the country, the social media world is ever developing, making it unavoidable for those in the education sector.
It is important for schools to ensure that processes are in place to deal with this kind of incident, and to provide sufficient training to teachers.
Given the above case, this area is likely to grow. Watch this space for further updates on this topic.
To find out more about the issues raised in this post, or to discuss any issues that may be affecting you, get in touch today with our Education team on 0161 833 9211.
The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.