Sexting – can victims claim damages in a civil court?
What is sexting?
In the past few years, there has been a huge increase in cases of sexting. Wikipedia defines sexting as “sending and receiving sexually explicit messages, primarily between mobile phones”.
I think I was about 16 years old when I got my first mobile phone. Back then, mobile phones were generally used to make calls or send the occasional text message. I never imagined that a few years later, you would be able to access the internet, play music and take photos – all on your mobile phone. I imagine the majority of people would say that this technology is a wonderful addition to our lives. However mobile phones are now also being used in a sinister way that often causes serious harm to the victim.
The use of sexting by paedophiles and sexual predators
Sexting can be harmless, such as the exchange of explicit messages and photographs between two consenting individuals who trust each other and who keep such sexts confidential. However, we are increasingly seeing situations, where sexting is being used by paedophiles and sexual predators. Often the perpetrators are in a position of trust, who prey upon the vulnerable.
As a senior solicitor in the abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, I have seen a real rise in paedophiles and sexual predators using text messages as a way to groom and/or sexually harass their victims. Often they will also take explicit photographs of their victims on their mobile phones and/or they will encourage their victims to take explicit photographs of themselves and send them by text message, which the paedophile / sexual predator then uses to satisfy their sexual desires.
Recently in the news
Only last month I saw it reported in the news that policeman turned lecturer Martin Kay was convicted of the sexual harassment of a female student after he bombarded her with sexts. Media reports confirm that Kay befriended the student after she became ill and then sent her sexually abusive calls and texts for a period of around 6 months, which caused her such distress she was hospitalised for a period of 2 weeks. The student is reported as saying “he put me through a living nightmare. I felt trapped and scared. I was fearful that if I rejected him my grades would suffer”. District judge Jeff Brailsford quite rightly said: “It is difficult to imagine a greater and grosser abuse of trust.” This incident sadly demonstrates that receiving unwanted sexts can have dire consequences for the recipient.
Our landmark case
Bolt Burdon Kemp recently acted for the Claimant in the landmark case of ABC v West Heath 2000 Limited and William Whillock  EWHC 2687 (QB). In this case, our client claimed compensation from her school and her teacher William Whillock. She alleged that Whillock had:
- groomed her;
- encouraged her to send indecent images of herself to him; and
- encouraged her to exchange text messages of a sexual content.
All of which eventually led to him seriously sexually assaulting her. As a result, our client suffered serious psychiatric harm.
What makes this case so important is that for the very first time the judge made an award of compensation specifically for the harm suffered as a result of the sexting. The judge awarded our client £35,000 for both the sexual assaults and the sexting, but significantly he said that if this had been a case where there had been no sexual assaults and was limited to sexting, he would have awarded our client £25,000.
What can you do if you have been a victim of sexting?
In a world where sexting is on the increase, the case of ABC is crucial in that it sets a precedent where victims of sexting, such as the female student harassed by Martin Kay, may now be able to successfully claim compensation in a civil court.
I would urge anybody who has been in a similar situation to our client ABC or who has experienced harassment by sexting to contact us so that we can advise you on bringing a claim for compensation for the harm such sexting has caused you.
I am a Senior Solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp specialising in Child Abuse claims. If you think you may have a claim, contact me free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4870 or at email@example.com for specialist legal advice. Alternatively, you can complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Child Abuse team will contact you. You can find out more about the Child Abuse team.
To learn more about the dangers of sexting and to download our sexting safeguarding toolkit, visit our #ChildAbuseInTheDigitalAge campaign page.