‘Sexting is a risky thing’: Warning after figures shows dozens of youngsters sending explicit messages

Nearly 70 children under the age of 14 have been reported to the police for "sexting" offences in Su

Nearly 70 children under the age of 14 have been reported to the police for "sexting" offences in Suffolk since December 2016. Child pictured is a model. Picture: NSPCC - Credit: Archant

A study carried out by the University of Suffolk into the use of new police powers which allows officers to record sexting crimes without formerly arresting offenders has revealed the extent of offences by those under 18.

The figures show that since December 2016, 17 children between 14 and 17 were arrested on suspicion of taking, making or distribution of an indecent image of a child in Suffolk.

One child under the age of 14 was arrested for a similar offence.

However, under new Outcome 21 rules, which allows the recording of a crime without the perpetrator begin given a criminal record, 67 under-14s were recorded and 99 children between the age of 14 and 17 were also noted for the offences.

Zoe Sparkes, who works at Suffolk Young People's Health Project, said there needs to be more awareness amongst children that sexting is a criminal act.

She said: "Sexting is a risky thing for young people.

"We have spoken to children who thought they were in a committed relationship but have had their pictures sent to friends and even sent around school, which is problematic for their emotional and mental health.

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"I feel like one of the big problems is that children don't know what they are doing is illegal. We have had sessions with the police who have advised about the risks of sexting which is important. My advice for young people would be, don't do it."

The new Outcome 21 recording method was introduced in 2016 to address the increasing number of young people who were being charged for "youth sexting".

The new guidelines were introduced in 2016 to ensure that as many young people caught up in sexting don't carry a criminal record into later life, as laws created in 1978 are not fit for use in the modern day.

Tink Palmer MBE - chief executive of the Marie Collins Foundation, which helps children who have suffered from sexual abuse or exploitation over the internet - said: "The criminalisation of children is an issue that has been of concern to me for some time. I am pleased that a number of progressive police forces are using Outcome 21 in a way to still record crime without the risk of criminalisation for young people in cases where it is appropriate."

"Of course, where arrest is entirely valid then police still have this option.

"In some areas children are still being arrested and subject to the full law enforcement process and a criminal record instead of Outcome 21 being applied.

"There is a risk that children engaging in sexting are falling victim to a postcode lottery, where the likelihood of their being arrested for this sort of crime depends upon where they live."