'Sexting' survey shows pressure faced by teens

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Six out of 10 teenagers say they have been asked for sexual images or videos, an NSPCC/ChildLine survey seen by the BBC's Newsnight programme suggests.

Of those questioned, 40% said they had created a sexual image or video, and about a quarter said they had sent one to someone else by text.

The NSPCC's head, Peter Wanless, said "sexting" was getting much more common.

"These results show that sexting is increasingly a feature of adolescent relationships," he told Newsnight.

"It is almost becoming the norm that a young person in a relationship should share an explicit image of themselves," he said.

For the survey, NSPCC and ChildLine spoke to 450 teenagers from across the country.

Of those who had sent an image or video to someone else by text, 58% said the image had been sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend, but a third said they had sent it to someone they knew online but had never met.

About 15% said they had sent the material to a stranger.

Start Quote

Jonathan Baggaley, CEOP

What we're seeing is abusers taking advantage and getting images out of young people, and then blackmailing them ”

End Quote Jonathan Baggaley National Crime Agency, Ceop command

Of those who said they had sent a photo to someone, 20% said it had then been shared with other people, while 28% said they did not know if their picture had been shared with anyone else.

More than half (53%) of those questioned said they had received a sexual photo or video, a third of whom had received it from a stranger.

Under British law it is legal to have sex aged 16, but it is illegal and a serious criminal offence to take, hold or share "indecent" photos of anyone aged under 18.

However, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) told Newsnight it was highly unlikely children would be prosecuted for sexting.

"I've been sent a picture before, when I was at school," Daniel, 19, told Newsnight.

Speaking from the Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey, south-east London, he said: "This girl [and me] had an argument the next day - not about the picture but about something else.

"I got so angry, I was sending that picture everywhere. It was mean. I felt bad after. To this day she hates me, but that's not the point. I shouldn't have done it in the first place."

In numbers

91% of UK children live in a household with access to the internet (2012)

62% of children aged 12-15 own a smartphone (2012)

43% of children use the internet in their bedroom (2012)

17.1 hours - the average number of hours 12-15-year-olds spend online each week (2012)

Taylor Weekes, 17, told Newsnight: "Most girls of my generation do it for attention, to try and find love out of it, but it usually is the wrong way."

According to figures from the National Crime Agency's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) command, 62% of children aged 12-15 owned a mobile phone in 2012, with the figure expected to rise by the end of 2013.

Experts say growing smartphone ownership, together with evolving technology, has helped created a perfect storm.

Even many of the cheapest mobiles now have cameras with which teenagers can easily take pictures of themselves and distribute them cheaply.

With most phones now connected to the internet, "sexts" can instantly be posted on social networking sites - quickly accessible by millions of people.

Ceop is dedicated to eradicating the sexual abuse of children. It says it is concerned about images falling into the wrong hands.

"What we're seeing is abusers taking advantage and getting images out of young people and then blackmailing them for more by saying, 'If you don't do more for me, I'll send these to your family and friends,'" Ceop's head of education, Jonathan Baggaley, said.

Now there are growing calls for the government to do more to educate young people about the potential dangers of creating and posting self-generated sexual content.

Daniel Chinsman shared a picture of his girlfriend after having a row

Ministers say that from 2014 all children in England from the age of five will be taught how to stay safe online as part of the new IT curriculum, while existing guidelines offer a sound framework for sex and relationship education in school.

But campaigners say the dangers of sexting should be covered in personal, social, and health education (PSHE) lessons.

"Sexting is not an IT issue, it's a relationships issue," deputy children's commissioner for England Sue Berkowitz said.

She says every school should run a comprehensive relationships and sex education programme.

"It must cover things like sexting and use of mobile technology, as well as all other aspects of relationships and sex education," she added.

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