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Children were today warned about the dangers of “sexting” as police revealed more than 350 under-14s have been investigated for sharing indecent images in three years.
Detectives used Valentine’s Day to challenge youngsters to think twice about whether a boyfriend or girlfriend asking them to send naked pictures really loves them.
Between January 2017 and October 2019, 353 suspects under the age of 14 were reported to the Met for possessing or distributing indecent images.
Consensual sexting cases dealt with under Outcome 21, a police policy to avoid children being criminalised, leapt from 38 in 2018 to 90 last year.
Pictures and videos have ended up on adult porn sites.
Police said a third of illegal images found on such sites were made by young people themselves.
Detective Superintendent Zena Marshall, of the Met’s online child sexual abuse and exploitation unit, said a lot of children were more likely to send nude images of themselves to partners than Valentine’s cards.
She said: “Stopping young people sexting is an impossible task. But I want them to say first, ‘Who do I want to see that image?’ If it’s just one person, then think twice before sending.
“We’re not seeking to criminalise children for this behaviour, however making and sharing indecent images of someone under 18 is a criminal offence.
“Often you will get an indecent image that has been shared between two young people and then it’s out to the whole school.
“There’s been instances where it’s been seen by over 100 people. Once an image is out there, it’s very difficult to get back.”
The vast majority of investigations are dropped because police decide it would not be in the public interest to bring charges.
But details of the arrest or an Outcome 21 may be disclosed later in life during an employment background check.
Sexting victim Eleanor, not her real name, was 14 when her boyfriend convinced her to share four naked pictures.
When they broke up, a friend found the images had been posted on Snapchat along with details of her online profile. She was forced to move school and to a new house outside London.
“I felt so betrayed and lonely,” she told the Standard. “Sexting has become the norm. But you don’t know who to trust.”
The boyfriend, 15, and two friends were arrested but two years later the CPS decided against criminal charges.