Don't criminalise teenagers for 'sexting', say children's campaigners

The groups' warnings come after news that a 14 year-old boy will be on a police database for 10 years after sending a naked selfie to a classmate

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The Independent Online

Teenagers should not be criminalised for ‘sexting’, children’s campaigners warned after it emerged that a boy who sent a naked selfie to a classmate will be on a police database for 10 years.

The action was taken by police against the 14-year-old boy, who has not been named, after he sent the photograph by Snapchat to a girl of the same age in his class who then shared it with others.

Despite not being arrested or charged with anything, the schoolboy is now on a national intelligence database after the image came to the attention of a police officer based at the school in the north of England. It is not known whether any action was taken against the girl who shared the image.

The incident has been recorded as a crime of making and distributing an indecent image, the boy's mother told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. “He was in his bedroom at his dad’s the night before, he was flirting with the girl and he sent a picture of himself,” she said.

Her son’s file will remain active for at least 10 years and could be brought to the attention of potential future employers conducting an advanced Criminal Records Bureau check. “I think at best he was naive and at worst he was just a teenager,” she commented. Sexting is “just how teenagers flirt these days,” his mother added.

“I shouldn't have done it...it's just annoying really, something that I did when I was 14 that could reflect badly in future,” said her son. Sexting is commonplace, he claimed: “You hear from a few people who’ve done it every week.”

Claude Knights, chief executive, Kidscape, said: “This case highlights many of the issues raised by what has come to be known as 'sexting'. Kidscape's main plea would be to guard against criminalising young people, as a growing number of teenagers are at risk of being unfairly labelled as sex offenders under current UK law.” She added: “Young people have always engaged in 'I'll show you mine, if you show me yours' behaviours, as they develop their sexual relationships.” Educating children on the dangers of sending explicit pictures of themselves needs to be a priority, she said.

And Jessica Taplin, chief executive of young people’s charity Get Connected, commented: “Demonising a young teenager for experimenting and taking a photograph of himself and sending it to a girl of a similar age, who he no doubt “fancies” seems to me incredibly knee jerk and unhelpful of both the school and the police.”

In a statement, an NSPCC spokesman said: “We don’t want to see children criminalised. But while many of them may see sexting as harmless fun they must be aware it is illegal and can leave young people vulnerable to blackmail and bullying or worse still, attract the attention of sex offenders as the images created may get shared extensively online.”

And Olivia Pinkney, Deputy Chief Constable, Sussex Constabulary, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for children and young people, commented: “Schools and educational establishments have the ability to deal with situations as they see fit. If any party chooses to report the incident to police, the Home Office counting rules are clear that it must be recorded as a crime.”

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