THE BLOG

No Adult Should Be Sending a Sexual Message to a Child

24/10/2014 15:56 BST | Updated 24/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Earlier this year a conversation with an MP was the catalyst that led me to realise there was a major flaw in the laws designed to protect children from sexual abuse.

The teenage daughter of a constituent had been sent a series of text messages by an older man. The messages had started off innocently enough but then became more sexual in tone.

The police were called and the man sending the texts had been arrested. He'd admitted sending the messages and charged with attempting to groom the girl.

However, he pleaded 'not guilty' and was acquitted in court because the judge found he hadn't done anything that could be termed as an 'attempt' to groom the girl.

I'm sure you would agree that no adult should be sending sexual messages to a child. For example, incredibly it wouldn't always be illegal to send a message saying: ""You make me feel so hot, tell me what you'd like me to do to you when we meet".

That's why today we've launched our Flaw in the Law campaign to make it a criminal offence for an adult to intentionally send a sexual message to a child. And we need the public to show their support by signing the petition.

ChildLine, the helpline for children run by the NSPCC, has seen contacts from children about online sexual abuse more than double in the past year, averaging seven counselling sessions a day to the free, 24-hour helpline.

One girl told ChildLine: "There's this guy sending me disgusting messages online. He started off being really nice and giving me loads of compliments but now all he talks about is how he wants me to do sexual things for him."

We shouldn't have to wait for a child to suffer abuse before the law steps in. But when we started to look at the issue in more detail we found some worrying examples where the law as it stands had failed to protect children from sex offenders.

In 2012 Phillip Pirrie was convicted for arranging to meet and sexually abuse a 13 year old girl he first contacted online. During the trial it was revealed that he had previously contacted a 14 year old girl through an online game and sent the girl sexual messages. These were found by the girl's father who took his concerns to the police, but no further action was taken as a meeting had not taken place between Pirrie and the girl.

Under the law the NSPCC is calling for Pirrie could have been prosecuted and convicted in respect of the first 14 year old victim. He could then have been put on the sex offenders register, and had a civil prevention order put in place. And this could have prevented him from offending against the second 13 year old victim.

Existing laws are fragmented and sex offenders are able to, and often do, exploit the loopholes. Sex abusers can often get away with effectively 'fishing' for child victims on social networks, mobile apps, chat rooms, and in online gaming environments.

In a nutshell, current laws are being stretched to fit new sex offender behaviour in the absence of laws that are fit for purpose.

Of course, if a child is coerced into sending the adult an indecent photo, performing a sexual act over a webcam, or the adult arranges to meet the child for sex, that adult has then committed an offence. However, damage to the child has already been done.

No law will ever be a silver bullet to stopping all sex offenders from grooming children but the Serious Crime Bill now being debated in Parliament is a timely opportunity to tailor the law to better protect children from sexual abuse.