YOUNG people are being warned not to exchange indecent images of themselves with others – or they could end up on the sex offenders’ register.
It comes amid a rise huge rise in the number of cases involving so-called ‘sexting’.
This is where young people under the age of 18 swap indecent images via phone messages or social media.
Child protection charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation warns that many young people do not know that possessing a sexual image of anyone aged under 18 is illegal – even if they consented and if it is of their boyfriend or girlfriend.
Now parents and carers are urged to ensure children understand possessing such images could earn them a criminal record, or worse, a place on the sex offenders’ register.
Deborah Denis from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation said: ‘This is a problem that arose with the introduction of social media. It’s not going anywhere.
‘There are a couple of things young people need to be helped to understand – that sexual images of themselves or their friends are actually illegal to be in possession of, even if that is a 13-year-old and her 14-year-old boyfriend, or even two 16-year-olds.
‘We need parents and carers involved to help them understand that. Once they have sent an image they don’t have control over it – it’s out of their hands. It could end up anywhere.
‘It’s a risk. It’s about thinking twice, thinking long term, thinking about the consequences and talking to somebody about it if you are being asked for sexual images by somebody.’
The charity spoke out after a 20-year-old man received a 32-week suspended sentence for possessing indecent images of a 13-year-old she sent via BlackBerry Messenger.
Martin Brown, of Prospect Lane, Havant, who was then 18, admitted nine counts of possessing an indecent photograph of a child in April 2013.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard he responded to a message sent by a 17-year-old girl to her BBM contacts saying ‘ping for dirty pictures.’
The older girl and a 13-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were having a sleepover at the time, and Brown replied.
The 17-year-old later sent him the younger girl’s BBM pin. Several days later they exchanged indecent images.
Police were alerted after the girl’s mother found the images on her phone, and he later told police he thought she was 16.
Brown was put under supervision and given a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.
He will be on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years.
Det Chief Insp Scott MacKechnie from Hampshire Constabulary’s Child Abuse Investigation Team said sexting was a growing problem.
‘We’re finding a host of investigations involve an element of social media and as advances are made in technology and devices become more accessible, there is always going to be an increase in use,’ he said.
‘I’d ask parents to be vigilant and ask their children what sites they are using and who they are communicating with, regularly checking their devices and ensuring parental controls and restrictions are in use, which can be as simple as knowing the password to their phone or the site they are using.’
Sophie Stevens, head of the CPS Wessex Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit said: ‘We are seeing more cases involving social media and that may be simply because it reflects how society communicates.’
Helen Donelan, from Portsmouth Safeguarding Children’s Board said it and the city council take the safety of children and young people seriously.
She said: ‘We work directly with safeguarding leads in schools to equip them to identify, prevent and address e-safety issues, including the issue of “sexting”.
‘E-Safety sessions are delivered directly to groups of children in both primary and secondary schools in a format that is age-appropriate. These sessions are delivered by our e-Safety officer and are targeted specifically for the age groups we engage with.’
She said workshops are held for older children and a Beware of the Lurking Trolls campaign educating young people has been a success.
COMMENT n PAGE 20