Cases involving children under ten years old sharing explicit images of themselves online are being reported to Scotland Yard “virtually every day”.
Police are also concerned that only a small number of children affected are reporting incidents to an adult.
The news comes after a report published in August by a children’s charity revealed a marked increase in calls from children worried about ‘sexting’.
During a six day period, Scotland Yard’s Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command team received reports of eleven and twelve-year-old girls who had been pressured into providing explicit images to men via the internet.
Detective Superintendent John Macdonald, from the team, said: “Virtually every day we’re seeing examples of very young children, I’m talking about 10 or sometimes even a bit younger than that, being asked to supply imagery online”.
“It is very under-reported. I would have thought that most young girls in their younger teens to mid-teens have probably had a request for some type of image to be sent and I think they wouldn’t even consider reporting it because it’s so ‘normal’… It’s a really hidden crime”.
Lack of awareness
In August this year, the NSPCC published a report entitled, ‘How safe are our children?’ which describes itself as “The most comprehensive overview of child protection in the UK.”
It revealed that nearly 1,400 calls related to sexting were received by ChildLine in 2015-16, a rise of 15 per cent on the previous year.
In a survey accompanying the report, the NSPCC found that half of parents and carers did not know that it is illegal for children to take naked or sexual pictures of themselves.
The report defined sexting as “the exchange of sexual messages or self-generated sexual images or videos through mobile phones or the internet”.
At the time, NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless highlighted some of the problems sexting can cause in an advice guide for parents.
“Sharing nude selfies can put young people at risk of bullying by peers or being targeted by adult sex offenders.
“It’s vital that parents talk to their children and that young people feel empowered to say no to sexting requests”.