Revenge porn: Children as young as 11 are victims – with less than 5% of cases being prosecuted

Only six out of 149 allegations led to a caution or charge

Children as young as 11 have been the victims of “revenge pornography”, police have revealed, with new figures showing less than 5 per cent of cases lead to a prosecution because of legal loopholes.

Eight police forces in England and Wales said they had received 149 allegations of revenge porn – where explicit photographs are posted online, often by an ex-partner – in the past two-and-a-half years. However, only six cases had resulted in a police caution or charge. The majority of victims are young women.

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Those figures are likely to be a vast underestimate of the problem nationwide, since most police forces did not record the data. They are largely powerless to intervene until new laws – due to pass through the Lords next month – are introduced to make revenge porn a crime.

Laura Higgins, manager of the UK Safer Internet Centre helpline, said: “I feel this is just the tip of the iceberg. Plenty of people, particularly young people, won’t want to go down the police route or even speak about them at all, so many incidents are going unnoticed. Our research shows that for every site we find, there are potentially dozens with those images on which the victim has no idea about. We are living in an age where technology is a part of our everyday lives, and children are becoming sexualised at a younger age.”

The vast majority of victims were women and police in Manchester said an 11-year-old girl and two other female teenagers had been targeted.

In Cambridge, a schoolboy circulated naked photos of a fellow pupil on Facebook and to other friends in the playground, while another boy made threats to place images of a pupil’s older sister on social networking sites.

Emma, a 21-year-old from Surrey whose named has been changed to protect her identity, told how she had tried to get sexually explicit images removed from her ex-boyfriend’s blog for six months, before finally turning the tables by publicising what he had done. “We were together for about two years, and during that time I had learned to trust him,” she said. “I thought our split was amicable … Then I saw the image of myself. I was in utter disbelief. I felt ill, sick, violated. I didn’t know what to do.”

The former culture secretary Maria Miller said the figures, which were obtained by the Press Association, showed revenge porn was more widespread than previously thought. “Police are finding it difficult to know how to react when incidents are reported,” she said. “All of this points to the need for a clarification of the law.”