Sexting Broadchurch

I'm a big fan of the ITV detective series Broadchurch and of actor David Tennant, but was really disappointed last night when we saw Tennant's character, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, violently threaten a group of teenage boys.

According to the storyline the boys had stolen his daughter's phone and forwarded some nude pictures of her that they had found on it to the rest of the school. DI Hardy stopped his car and threatened the boys saying that, he would "cut their tiny little cocks off".

It's not the language, or even the threats of violence that bothered me, after all it was post watershed. However, it was a real shame that the public were led to believe that the only option to protect children from this kind of bullying was to make threats of extreme violence. As a police officer DI Hardy should have known that these young men had committed a serious criminal offence - probably several offences, and he should have arrested them.

Sending an indecent image of a minor via a text message, an email, or any other electronic means is breaking the law under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. A minor means anyone under the age of 18. That's right, even 16 and 17 year old's who can consent to sex, cannot consent to the distribution of an indecent image of themselves. It is an offence, even if the image was taken or distributed with the permission of the child/young person.

The teenagers who stole the phone and then forwarded the images without DI Hardy's daughter's permission, had done this in an attempt to bully and intimidate her. In an earlier episode the boys had visited the house and left a message saying that, 'the boys had been around'. So as well as the Sexual Offences Act 2003 they had fallen foul of the Computer Misuse Act 1990. This piece of legislation made it illegal to gain unauthorised access to computer material and unauthorised access with intent to commit or facilitate a crime. They may also have broken the Communications Act 2003, Section 127 which made it an offence to send a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character over a public electronic communications network.

I believe that we should be cautious before we start charging children with criminal offences. The teenage years are difficult and most of us make mistakes along the way. The current advice for schools is that sexting incidents should be dealt with 'in house' unless there are additional factors which include; significant differences in age, coercion, widespread distribution of the image, repeated incidents, or if the young people involved may be vulnerable or in need. In the Broadchurch story this was not a case of some consensual shared sexy selfies, or even a case of immature exhibitionism, but a case of malicious sexual bullying and theft. A line had clearly been crossed between sharing an erotic selfie with a boyfriend or girlfriend, to one of sexual threats and intimidation.

I do wonder why children seem to get less protection from the Police than an adult. I wonder how DI's Hardy and Miller might have reacted if someone had stolen the phone of one of the adult characters? What would they have done if nude photos from an adults stolen phone were sent to the whole town in an attempt to intimidate them. I think DI Hardy would have thrown the book at them!