Youngsters and their parents are being urged to think about the dangers of sexting as part of a week-long campaign to highlight child sexual exploitation.
With around 35 per cent of all child sexual exploitation (CSE) offences taking place online in the county, Cambridgeshire Constabulary aims to encourage young people to protect themselves by thinking before sharing explicit images online or via text.
Around 64 per cent of online victims of CSE have shown their awareness of safety issues by refusing to engage in sexts and blocked or reported offenders, but there are still others who could be at risk of being groomed online.
Detective Inspector Claire Hewson said: “Sexting may be seen as harmless but it’s important to remember that sharing or receiving an image of a person under 16 is illegal and can lead to serious consequences, including blackmail, bullying and harassment, which can have a long-lasting negative impact.
“It can also put young people at risk of CSE. For the majority the internet and social media is used to keep in contact with their friends and family. For others it can be a tool for sex offenders to groom children from their homes, behind computer screens by creating fake identities and building relationships to incite victims to send explicit images and videos.
“Sexting is a current issue which is growing rapidly with increasing numbers of online sharing and chat applications becoming available to young people.”
A recent survey of 835 10 to 17-year-olds carried out by the Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board revealed that 31 per cent think sending an intimate photo is safe and 15 per cent still believe possessing, taking, showing and sending them is not a crime.
Head of Service for the Peterborough Safeguarding Board Jo Procter said: “This survey evidences that children and young people in Peterborough are still unclear about the risks of sharing intimate personal images.
“The Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board will work with partner agencies including schools, health, voluntary services and the police to help educate both children, young people and their parents or carers about how to stay safe online.”
The force has created posters encouraging young people to think before they share a private image and asks whether they truly know who they’re speaking to online.
During the week the force will be taking part in Safer Internet Day (February 7) to promote safe and responsible use of technology.
DI Hewson added: “There’s lots of support and advice available to young people and their parents or carers but one of the best ways to highlight the issues is by talking.
“Explore sites and applications with your children and discuss what is appropriate for them based on their age. Talk about staying safe and show them how to keep information private or block someone.”