Skip to main content

Online abuse advice for professionals working with young people

Section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 inserts a new offence into the Sexual Offences Act 2003, at section 15A, criminalising sexual communication with a child under the age of 16.

This new classification criminalises conduct of an adult who intentionally communicates with a child under the age of 16 (whom the adult does not reasonably hold the belief for them to be aged 16 or over) with the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification if that communication is sexual in nature or its intent is to encourage that child to make a communication that is sexual.

Read the circular on GOV.UK

Situations that will be covered by the offence include talking sexually to a child in an online chatroom, sexually explicit SMS text messages to a child along with inviting a child to communicate sexually (whether the invitation itself is sexual or not).

The new offence is designed to ensure that it does not criminalise ordinary social or educational interactions between children and adults or communications between young people themselves in an ever increasing age of technology and mobile communication and improves the law substantially as prior to this new offence, sexualised communication with children that was text based was not actually a criminal offence on its own unless paired with an actual attempt to meet up with a child.

Any adult caught breaking the law will face up to two years in prison and be automatically placed on the sex offenders register. The law will cover both online and offline communication, including social media, email, and letters.

We live in an age where children live their lives through social media, so it's important that they are educated about how to stay safe online and parents are aware of their children's use of social media, sites and apps.

Online abuse

The UK Safer Internet Centre published advice for professionals who are concerned about cyberbullying. Resources include information on legal requirements for schools and colleges and links to online resources on bullying.

Source: UK Safer Internet Centre  Date: 15 November 2017


The Lucy Faithfull Foundation has launched a new campaign to deter people from viewing child abuse images online. The Stop it now resources include information and support to help users of online abuse images cope with difficult emotions and change their behaviour. 

Influence of images and videos in young people’s digital lives

The UK Safer Internet Centre has published a report looking into the role and influence of images and videos in young people’s digital lives and the influence this can have on their self-esteem, behaviour and emotions. Findings from a survey of 1,500 young people aged 8-17 years old in the UK include: 70% said they have seen images and videos not suitable for their age in the last year; 22% said that someone has posted an image or video to bully them; and 45% of 13-17 year olds have seen nude or nearly nude photos of someone they know being shared around their school or local community.

Date: 07 February 2017

Further information: Power of image report (PDF)

Online safety guides

The UK Safer Internet Centre has launched a series of online safety guides for professionals working with children including social workers, healthcare professionals, residential care settings and governors/trustees. The guides provide tailored advice in a range of topics including: roles and responsibilities in relation to online safeguarding; understanding the latest technologies and trends; managing online safeguarding incidents; supporting children, young people, parents, carers.

Date: 13 July 2017

Online safety advice

In March 2017 Bedford Borough commissioned E-safety Training and Consultancy to work together with the Early Help team to examine children’s use of technology and the associated risks across the Bedford Borough area. From this, they developed an Online Safety report (PDF).

Children and young people aged between 10 and 17 and parents and carers across Bedford were asked a series of questions through a survey, which aimed to highlight the following:

  • Their use of technology
  • The most popular social networks and social media apps
  • The risks and issues they face
  • How they respond to those risks
  • The education they have received
  • The education and support they would like to receive

Two hundred and sixty six responses were received from children and young people and three hundred and eighty three responses from parents and carers. Professionals took part in focus groups.

Highlights from surveys and focus groups

  • The most popular activity for children and young people online was social networking and listening to music, and when asked parents agreed that this was the most popular
  • Children’s use of social media was high and they were very familiar with lots of the most popular social networks and apps – Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube
  • The thing that they were most worried about was online bullying with 44% of them highlighting this as a concern
  • The area that children and young people were least worried about was seeing violent content online
  • In comparison parents and carers were mostly worried about their children having too much screen time – 54%

Conclusions and recommendations

Parents and carers:
  • Support at appropriate ‘touch points’ - ensuring that parents and carers can access support at the most appropriate times for them e.g. at point of sale, in health centres and supermarkets
  • Community access – ensuring that support is provided in the community
  • Applied support – most likely to seek support from schools – ensuring that those most in need get the support they require at the right time
  • Balanced and not scary or patronising – ensuring the messaging is positive and non patronising for their children

Schools need to be supported to ensure that they have implemented best practice approaches in relation to their policies and practices; infrastructure and technology, education and training, and standards. In order to develop this further it’s imperative that all schools have an increased awareness and are offered support, consultancy and training.

Children and young people:
  • Seek support from one another – therefore they need appropriate training and support
  • Promotion of referral routes – ensuring that children and young people know where and how to report
  • Empowering and realistic messaging and an educational programme, especially around ‘nudes’ – understanding the motivations for children sharing nudes and what might prevent the behaviour.