Children as young as 10 are being pressured into sharing explicit images of themselves “virtually every day,” police say, with many not reporting such requests because it has become so common.
Detective Superintendent John Macdonald, from Scotland Yard’s Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command, says “any child is vulnerable” to online predators, who target victims by showering them with compliments then quickly resorting to threats if they don’t comply.
“Before the internet was mainstream, it was dangerous for an offender to try and target a child because they would have to have that physical face-to-face contact, whereas now all they’ve got to do is sit in the comfort of their own home and do it relatively safely,” Macdonald told the Press Association.
“They’ve got access to any kid.”
In a six-day period, Scotland Yard received reports of 12-year-old girls who had sent naked pictures to men online and a child under 10 who was asked for sex while online gaming.
Macdonald says police only see a fraction of the so-called ‘sexting’ cases.
“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.’
“The ones that develop into more coercive requests when the child is being threatened if they don’t send the image, that obviously will be less in volume, but I still think we don’t see most of those being reported. It’s a really hidden crime.”
In September, the NSPCC said the number of children counseled by Childline about sexting had risen by 15 percent in a year.
A recent case saw east London man Samuel David Lopez-Florez, 25, jailed for nine years for pressuring a 12-year-old girl to send him explicit videos of herself, and when she wanted to stop, sending the footage to her friends online.
According to law, young people in a relationship who share images between themselves should not face prosecution. Police are more concerned about cases involving blackmail or abuse.
Clearly, police have to prioritize the more serious cases, but something needs to be done to discourage all sexting. Nothing good can come from this new phenomenon and regardless of the motive, it is still child pornography.