Compensation awarded in ‘sexting’ case

27th June 2017

Compensation awarded in ‘sexting’ case

The legal precedent for awarding compensation in respect of “sexting” was set in a case called ABC v West Heath 2000 Limited & William Whillock [2015].

The claimant, known as ABC, was awarded £25,000 by the High Court for the psychological harm caused to her by being encouraged to send explicit sexual text messages and images of herself to the Vice-Principal of the special educational needs school that she attended in Kent.

The case establishes a legal precedent, which means that anyone who is manipulated into sending or receiving a sexually-explicit message or image, and who suffers psychological harm as a result, can now bring a civil claim for compensation.

When ABC was a teenager, she developed a friendship with a teacher called William Whillock at The New School, which is an independent special needs school near Sevenoaks in Kent. Mr Whillock was the vice-principal and child protection officer at the school and in his mid-50s at the time.

Mr Whillock would call and text her late at night asking her to send him naked images of herself. During the period of one year, ABC exchanged 18 text messages with Mr Whillock. Additionally, 20 photographs were sent to Mr Whillock, 12 of which featured the victim either topless, in her underwear, or naked in the bath and three were reported as being of a more graphic nature.

Although Mr Whillock told ABC to delete the photographs and texts, her phone was eventually discovered by another teacher at the school and Mr Whillock was reported to the Police. A criminal action then took place.

ABC’s civil action for damages was based on a claim that the encouragement by Mr Whillock of the exchange of text messages and images would inevitably cause her psychological harm.

In the civil trial, the parties’ medical experts agreed that Mr Whillock had exploited ABC’s vulnerability and that he had breached the boundaries of the appropriate teacher-student relationship.

ABC sued Mr Whillock personally and also vicariously his employer for damages for personal injuries caused by sexual assault, rape, grooming and sexting.

The Judge found that the three elements of the tort of intentional infliction of harm under the principle established in Wilkinson v Downton [1897] were made out by Mr Whillock, in that he had emotionally manipulated the claimant and encouraged her to send indecent images of herself to him and had engaged in sexual chat with her in text messages.

Although the texts and images themselves were not directly intended to cause her harm, the court found that the consequences of Mr Whillock’s conduct to be such that it was obvious that “the perpetrator cannot realistically say that the consequences were unintended”. It was foreseeable that the illicit relationship would eventually cause nothing but harm to ABC, a vulnerable young woman.

The ABC case establishes a precedent that anybody who is manipulated into sending or receiving sexually-explicit text messages or images and then goes on to suffer psychological injury as a result can bring a claim for compensation.

How can our personal injury lawyers help?

We live in a society where apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp make it extremely easy for adults and children to be exchanging sexually-explicit images. This means that the chances of suffering harm and exploitation are ever present and real.

For advice, please call James Davies at Gotelee Solicitors on 01473 298125. James is a specialist solicitor in Ipswich, with experience representing individuals in sexual abuse claims, he will be happy to discuss your situation in complete confidence in a free initial consultation.

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