UK law – Sexual offences relating to the internet

According to UK Law (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), there are four main offences relating to the access of sexual images of children, that you can be penalised for.


Having, in your possession, a sexual image of anyone under the age of 18, whether it be a hard copy or an electronic copy.


The sending of a sexual image of a child, to another person. It includes distribution through chat rooms, email, phone applications, text messaging, USB sticks and file sharing websites (peer-to-peer).

Sometimes file sharing websites will allow others to access your files without your direct knowledge. You need to check your settings to ensure this isn’t the case. The authorities will assume that you have consented to any form of distribution and will not accept any lack of understanding.

If the authorities find evidence of intent to distribute, even if you haven’t done so, it is possible to be charged for distribution.


Making an electronic copy of a sexual image of a child. This includes copies of images that are purposefully saved by a user on to a device and the automatic copy saved to a device when an image is clicked on. In addition, it includes images automatically downloaded from file sharing websites.


Taking your own sexual images of a child.

Other sexual offences relating to children and the internet include:

Exposing a child to sexual material

Intentionally showing a child sexual material, including adult pornography, sexual images of children and self-generated sexual images (e.g. showing your genitals to a child over webcam), through an electronic device or internet application.

Inciting a child to engage in sexual activity

Encouraging a child to perform a sexual act or to show sexual parts of their body, for example over live webcam or asking a child to send a sexual image of themselves.

Grooming of a child

Creating an emotional connection with a child, in order to gain trust, so that they can be persuaded to engage in sexual activities. It usually involves showering the child with compliments, trust and some form of reward/gift. On occasions, it can also involve threats and purposefully making the child feel guilty or bad if they do not do something they are asked of.

Some individuals groom a parent in order to gain access to their children.

Arranging to meet with a child for sexual purposes

Most commonly, this is a secondary part to grooming a child online; after the trust has been built, arrangements to meet may be made. Alternatively, this could involve talking to other adults online and arranging to meet a particular child through them, for sexual purposes (in this case, money may be exchanged).

Other sexual offences relating to the internet include:


Direct observation of another person or child without their knowledge, when a reasonable level of privacy is expected. This includes, but is not limited to, cameras being set up in communal areas such as toilets, and private areas such as bedrooms, in order to record someone engaging in a private act (e.g. taking their clothes off or engaging in sexual activity). It also includes viewing live footage of another individual engaging in voyeuristic activities.

Extreme pornography

Possessing pornographic images that depict acts which threaten a person’s life or result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals. In addition, it includes bestiality (images depicting sexual activity between people and animals) and necrophilia (sexual intercourse with corpses).

Sexual chat about children

Engaging in sexual chat about children with other internet users. This could be via chatrooms, but also email and through commenting on images of children.

Obscene Publication Act

Publishing any content which will have a negative effect on someone else, whether that is the reader or the subject of the content. Whilst writing or reading a sexual story about a child is not illegal, it is against the law to distribute and publish such material for this reason.

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