Image Sharing – The Law


Type of Resource


Publication Date

June 26, 2023


Digital Wellbeing / Sharing nudes and semi-nudes
It is an offence to take or share an ‘indecent image’ of a child under 18. This means that where a child takes or shares an image of themselves or another child, they are technically committing a criminal offence.

Did You Know?

That the law in Northern Ireland criminalising indecent images of children was created to protect children from adults and was developed before the use of the internet. It was not designed to cover image sharing between children.

Despite children and young people technically committing an offence there is a general consensus that they should not be unnecessarily criminalised. The impact of a criminal record would be likely to impact their future life chances. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) consider age gaps between children involved and work to ensure the matter is dealt with sensitively and considering of all the circumstances.

All UK police forces recognise the need to avoid the unnecessary criminalisation of children. Some police forces in England and Wales have a mechanism called Outcome 21 which allows them to sensibly deal with crime recording related to this sensitive issue. Although the PSNI may not utilise outcome 21 specifically, they are likely to avoid prosecuting children who have made a simple error of judgement.

The mere fact that an incident may be investigated causes children to worry and could be a deterrent to them coming forward. So it is very important to reassure them that everyone, including the police, will simply want to support them and keep them safe.

The UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) published non-statutory guidance on managing these issues and we include access to it below. Although this is developed specifically for England and Wales, it will likely inform best practices.

The PSNI have published guidance on how to deal with image sharing incidents.

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