The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.
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.
- Peer to Peer Contact
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.
- Social Media
For those communicating over social media platforms the topic of age, or knowledge of the age of participants can be critical. Likewise, the intention of the communications is crucial to understanding what if any offence may have been committed. The understanding of risk is also a topic that frequently arises in such cases, from the mutual fantasists to the offender in waiting. Effective representation at an early stage, including a thorough risk analysis of evidential requirements can make a real difference. We are on your side, and can take you through the process from beginning to end. We have highly qualified experts who can be by your side every step of the way.
- Case Study
Stephen was 14, and had boasted to his friend over social media about sexual activity with a 13-year-old girl. The text conversation was somewhat gratuitous, and had been shared by someone who had taken the friend’s phone without permission. Suddenly it was around the school. Stephen was such a young 14-year-old, still very childish.
Ms S contacted us on a Friday evening. Her son had told what had happened, and she had spoken to the parents of the girl. She had also spoken to the other boy’s family. It didn’t seem anyone wanted the police involved, but how the school would react was another matter.
Over the weekend we arranged for both Stephen and his friend to see, on that Sunday, an educational psychologist, with a view to articulating that this episode was properly described as normal development and consensual experimentation, and that the subsequent social media chat was an immature but private exchange that had been stolen and shared.
On the Monday the school conducted an investigation, concluding the same day in agreement with the educational psychologist that both boys were able to return to school with some appropriate extra work to do relating to healthy and respectful relationships. By the Tuesday the whole matter was concluded.
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