'Outcome 21' preventing criminalisation of children

By agency reporter
November 7, 2017

Data from police forces shows a surge in children sharing or possessing sexual images of themselves or others – with over 6200 incidents reported this year – an increase of 131 per cent from 2014/2015.

Initial analysis shows that the number of children facing charges in these cases has more than halved, and the new Outcome 21 is most commonly used, which enables forces to deal with sexting offences without criminalising children.

Outcome 21 can only be used in cases where there is no evidence of exploitation or malicious intent, and is endorsed by advice from the College of Policing to help officers respond to sexting offences proportionately.

The College advice as well as separate advice for schools by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, recognises the long-term negative impact of criminalising young people. However, where there are signs of exploitation, forces will carry out a full criminal investigation.

National Police Chiefs Council Lead for Child Protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey said, "A third all of child sexual abuse is committed by young people themselves – tackling and preventing it is a significant challenge for both schools and the police. Parents, carers and schools have a crucial role to play in talking to children about what a healthy relationship looks like, their boundaries, consent and the ramifications of sharing sexual imagery.

“There is a worrying upward trend in children sharing sexual images, particularly regarding children who pass on indecent images of others. Sharing and possessing these images is against the law.  Once an image is shared with others it can cause deep embarrassment and distress.

"Forces are risk assessing every case to ensure we are not unnecessarily stigmatising children and saddling them with a criminal record. But there will always be a criminal investigation where we see that young people are being coerced, exploited or blackmailed.

“I am concerned about the impact that exposure to extreme pornography can have on children so we need to consider if a lack of universal relationship and sex education is compounding the problem. There is also undoubtedly more to be done to remove indecent imagery quickly and robustly from across social media platforms once it has been shared or posted without consent.”

Reports come from children as young as ten with a peak in cases involving 14 year olds. Boys are as likely as girls to be recorded as suspects or perpetrators for sexting offences but girls are more likely to be recorded as victims; suggesting that boys are more likely to share images without consent.

There appears to be a substantial decrease in the number of ‘sexting’ offences during the month of August over the last three years, coinciding with school holidays.

David Tucker, College of Policing lead from Crime and Criminal Justice, said, “Today’s statistics indicate policing’s commitment to recording all cases as crimes and focusing on safeguarding children and young people.

“A year ago the College produced advice to support forces in responding in a measured and proportionate way to all reports of children and young people producing or sharing sexual imagery or ‘sexting’.

“It is clear that where children and young people are being exploited, forced or coerced into sharing or generating indecent imagery of themselves and/or others, the offenders should be prosecuted.

“Our advice takes into consideration that some young people send each other these types of images not realising they are breaking the law. In these circumstances the advice is to consider the long-term impact, and avoid stigmatising or unnecessarily criminalising young people. Police powers, including prosecution, should be used only when necessary and in a proportionate way.”

Outcome 21 may be considered the most appropriate resolution in youth produced sexual imagery cases where the making and sharing is considered non-abusive and there is no evidence of exploitation, grooming, profit motive, malicious intent (e.g. extensive or inappropriate sharing (e.g. uploading onto a pornographic website) or it being persistent behaviour. Where these factors are present, outcome 21 would not apply.

The College of Policing issued advice to forces in November 2016 which aimed to help officers respond to sexting offences in a proportionate way, recognising the long term impact of criminalising young people.

The number of young people charged has dropped from 150 in 2014/15 to 63 in 2016/17 – while over the same period uses of Outcome 21 rose from 34 to 2079.

* , http://www.npcc.police.uk/Home.aspx

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