'Sexting' Trend On The Rise Among Children, Experts Warn

Worrying 'Sexting' Trend On The Rise Among Children

Children are unaware of the long-term consequences of sending sexually explicit images via text messages, known as "sexting", experts have warned as the trend appears to be on the rise.

The warning comes after a teenager was detained on Wednesday at a young offenders' institute for 10 months after circulating an explicit video of a 14-year-old to pupils at her school.

At the sentencing, the boy was told by magistrates: "What you did will have a lasting effect on her."

The incident, although unusual in its prosecution, is one which is becoming increasingly common among young people, says Penny Steinhauer, director at Eye PAT, an internet safety training organisation targeted at parents and schools.

Steinhauer, who tours schools giving training on internet safety, said such incidents "nearly always lead to bullying, which can become very vindictive, and it is only going to increase".

She cites a particularly shocking example from the US: a teenager, who sent her boyfriend a nude picture of herself which ended up circulating around her hometown, was so traumatised by taunts of "slut" and "whore" she hanged herself in her bedroom.

Although very few cases end in such tragedy, Steinhauer warns children do not understand the long-term consequences of sexting.

"Children are not aware future employers will Google them. Once they have sent that picture, they are out of control. The material is at the recipient's disposal, which can prove particularly problematic after the relationship ends - which most school ones eventually do."

But, as police are loathe to prosecute in most circumstances, many children will not be aware of the severity of distributing such images.

Detective Inspector Chris Balmer, of Cambridgeshire Police, told The Huffington Post UK many children do not connect the law with their own lives.

"There is fairly established guidance which states police should not seek to criminalise children so we won't usually prosecute unless the circumstances - such as distributing the image without consent - make it necessary to do so. Unfortunately young people's understanding of what is and isn't legal is very limited.

"If we become aware of a particular issue then we would work with the school to go in an speak with the teachers, parents and students.

"Camera phones have only served to make it a lot easier for children to take and access risque images."

A 2009 survey by the charity Beatbullying revealed 38% of 11 to 17-year-olds had received a sexually explicit text or email, with 70% saying they knew the sender. Another poll, conducted by Associated Press and music channel MTV, found around a third had sent or received naked pictures, with more than 60% of those who had sent images saying they felt pressured to do so.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) has warned children of the problems of sexting and released a video last year in an attempt to discourage young people from taking erotic pictures or videos of themselves and sending it to others.

Cepo warns of an additional - and darker - consequence of sexting, however innocent.

Despite announcements in 2010 sexting would be added to the school curriculum the problem is not going away.

Steinhauer says it is one of the main issues schools ask her to hold workshops on.

"It is primarily children at secondary school who are sexting but I have been told of cases in primary schools," she adds. It is very difficult to get the message across. Children just think they are sending a harmless picture."

She condemns celebrities who glorify sexting, such as Rihanna, who said "If you don't send your boyfriend naked pictures then I feel bad for him", are "very unhelpful".

"Also, schools are in a very difficult situation. Do you make them aware of the issue and therefore promote it? Or keep quiet? Usually, young children are aware of sexting from a surprisingly young age."

Luckily, it seems companies who provide internet security are slowly catching up. BullGuard has developed a security app for smart phones which allows parents to track messages and data received and sent on their children's phones.

"Police and prosecutors have begun to work even closer with victims’ charities to identify the issues that have previously operated under the radar.

"Too many young women are being tempted, cajoled through peer pressure or or tricked into sending the most compromising photographs to virtual strangers or to partners in short term relationships.

"We cannot stop the tide, but we can educate and advise. We can explain the dangers to privacy, the potential of you being a victim of blackmail and worse."


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