Sexting - the sending of indecent images by phone or via social media - has frequently been in the news in the past few months.  Although it is not a new phenomenon, it is increasingly high profile and something that the courts are now addressing.

A former school vice-principal has now been ordered to pay damages to a former pupil who he manipulated into sending inappropriate and sexually explicit images by text message. Although he was convicted in 2010, having admitted possession of the images and was awarded a three year community order, the civil case has only just reached the courts.

William Whillock will pay over £50,000 to the unnamed former pupil as compensation for the harm she suffered. Although many of the details have not been disclosed, the award sets a precedent for future claims.  

It is not only a warning for potential offenders, but also for employers.  As sexting becomes ever more visible, in schools, workplaces and in the mainstream media, there is a risk it will also become more common. Social media has had an influence on the accessibility of sexting, along with sending abusive, harassing and offensive messages. Although social media platforms are starting to address this growing concern, it will prove difficult to control for some time.  

Vicarious liability

For employers, such as the school in the present case, as well as damage to reputation, a financial liability may also be incurred.

Where employers fail to act, or even identify circumstances in which its employees are acting unlawfully or inappropriately, including where vulnerable service users are manipulated against their will, the path is clear for claims to be brought not just against offenders but others who may be deemed responsible.

This case again highlights the importance of employers taking an empiric view of social media and implementing policies that reach beyond the day-to-day duties of employees. As ever, communication is key.