My daughter Eleanor* was 15 when I got a phone call from the school nurse. ‘There’s been a problem,’ she said. ‘Can you come in?’ Concerned, I hurried over. The nurse sat me down. ‘I’ve been contacted by the National Crime Agency,’ she said gently. ‘Eleanor sent naked photographs of herself to her boyfriend and after they broke up he shared them online. Eleanor called Childline, who alerted the NCA. They’re worried she’s at risk of being contacted by paedophiles, or blackmailed.’
My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. I was devastated. My first thought was, ‘Could my daughter really have done this?’
Minutes later Eleanor came into the room and I fell apart. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I kept asking. She was crying, but also angry as she hadn’t wanted the nurse to tell me either. The meeting passed in a blur and as we left the nurse advised us to contact the police.
Afterwards, we sat in the car talking for an hour. Eleanor said her then-boyfriend Josh* had asked her for naked photos, and she’d thought all girls did it. She’d sent him three or four on Snapchat during our family holiday in Tenerife – she isn’t allowed her phone upstairs at home, but we were more laid-back on holiday. She’d assumed the images would delete automatically, but Josh had an app that allowed him to store them on his phone. After they’d broken up he’d sent the pictures to his friends, who’d then also shared them.
Girls had started sending her messages calling her disgusting and making cruel insults. I was sad she’d been dealing with this alone, but she admitted she’d kept it from me as she thought I’d blame her. Years earlier we’d discussed internet safety and I’d warned her about sending inappropriate images, then she’d done it anyway. I knew it was a genuine mistake and she should not be punished.
I decided to be strong for her. I desperately wanted to take the pain away and hated that I couldn’t. She was my youngest child and I’d always been protective. Deep down I was furious with Josh and wanted to confront him myself, but after discussing it with my husband, we agreed to report him to the police and do things officially. The next day, two officers arrived at our house and we sat with Eleanor as she made a statement. When they asked her to describe the photos, it was awful. I could see how humiliated she felt. Her dad had to leave the room.
After that, she dreaded going to school. Some mornings I’d sit in the car with her for hours until she felt ready. Her hair started to fall out and she couldn’t sleep; our GP diagnosed anxiety and prescribed beta blockers. Eleanor was still receiving abusive messages and people called her a ‘grass’ for going to the police. Once, I was sitting at the kitchen table when a boy messaged me on Facebook saying, ‘Can you ask your daughter to send me some more photos of herself, please?’ I felt sick.
Earlier this year, nearly two years after we reported it, the police finished their investigation, concluding that the images were erotic, but not pornographic. Josh was never charged. I’d never felt so let down. I wished we’d never reported it. I phoned Josh’s mother, who I used to be friendly with, but she wouldn’t speak to me. I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t at least said sorry.
Eventually, Eleanor went to see a clinical hypnotherapist, which helped tremendously. She moved schools for sixth form and also took a year out to deal with everything.
Three years on, I still cry about it sometimes – but only in private. I’m sad I couldn’t support her in those early days, and can’t help but worry about who might have the photos. But I’m proud of how Eleanor dealt with it and relieved she’s on the other side.
If you want to get an explicit photo of your child removed, report the image to the site hosting it. Your child can also contact Childline who will work with the appropriate agencies to try and get the image taken down. For more advice contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or [email protected]
As told to: Sophie Foster.
Picture posed by model. *Names and some details have been changed