Outcome 21: The get out of jail free card?

November 3, 2020, By

In January 2016, the Home Office launched the Outcome 21 which enables police forces to deal with sexting offences without criminalising children and young people. It is intended to allow the police to provide a proportionate response when concluding an investigation concerning sexting.

Sharp increase in sexting

A report in June by SafeToNet claimed that there was a sharp rise in sexual messages being sent by young people since March. As we approach a second lockdown there are fears that these numbers could increase again.

Throughout a time where social interaction has been extremely limited, young people have continued to seek validation from their peers. Without real-life interaction, throughout lockdown children and young people increasingly turned to their smartphones, which have good cameras and many touchpoints for them to instantly share messages with others, to try and find this validation. This includes sending naked photos and content.

The issue with this is, not only is it illegal for under 18’s, but once something is shared with one person, there is no certainty that they will not share it with their friends, who again could pass it on.

A harrowing statistic from the aforementioned report was that a child as young as six was found to have been sending naked photos, which is a serious cause for concern.

The legalities

In most cases where people send private messages of this nature, they do not even consider that it may be against the law.

  • It is illegal for anybody under the age of 18 to send a naked photo. Young people doing so could be charged with distributing an indecent image of a child, under the Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Relationship status is irrelevant to this offence, unless the couple are married.
  • Sending unsolicited naked photos could result in prosecution under the Malicious Communications Act.

What does the Outcome 21 do?

While most of the images that are shared will remain private, approximately 10% will be shared or forwarded. This can include ‘revenge porn’, as explained in a recent blog of ours.

An Outcome 21 is an alternative conclusion to a sexting investigation. For instance, if it is consensual between both parties and there is absolutely no evidence of malicious intent. There are strict rules on when it can be issued, but essentially, Outcome 21 allows for police to record an incident with no further investigation.

It may only be issued as an appropriate response if the police are confident that the making or sharing is considered non-abusive, and that there is zero evidence of exploitation, grooming, malicious intent or profit motives.

Is it a get out of jail free card?

Not necessarily. There are certain criteria which much be met in order to issue an Outcome 21. It will only be done if the police are certain that there is no malicious intent.

Additionally, for any jobs which require an in-depth criminal record check, i.e. teaching or working with vulnerable children or adults, the incident can be disclosed if the Chief Constable feels it appropriate.

Due to the recent introduction of the outcome 21 we are yet to see the full impact long-term on employment and future careers.

The overarching message

Beyond this, the greater message is that we need to better educate our young people around the law and that there are other ways to communicate with people, to feel validated and to build relationships.

We must help young people and children to understand how to navigate risk and to build trust through sex education. We also need some more modern legislation as the digital world continues to evolve and more avenues for this kind of activity to take place.

Are you, or is your child, being investigated?

If you or someone close to you is being investigated for the distribution of naked photos, it is important that an expert solicitor is on hand to talk through the ramifications of the activity.

They will discuss with the accused whether an outcome 21 is a possible outcome, and share guidance in relation to any police interviews which may take place.

To speak with one of our criminal law team please call us on 0161 969 3131 or give us some further information in our confidential contact form.