August 4, 2009

Rising Number Of British Teens “˜Sexting’

A growing number of British teens are "sexting," exchanging explicit pictures of themselves via their mobile phones in a practice experts say may leave them vulnerable to cyberbullying and other forms of victimization.

Sexting has also resulted in explicit images of children being posted on Web sites used by pedophiles without the knowledge of the sender, said Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (CEOP), a law enforcement agency associated with the British police.

"We are getting an increasing number of reports from the public, children and parents alike, who are concerned about this kind of behavior," said Helen Penn, head of education at the CEOP, told Reuters.

"We have seen an increase in children producing sexual images of themselves, and as a result we are seeing children's normal sexual exploration being translated into public property," she added.

Advances in wireless and mobile phone technology, such as Bluetooth, coupled with the ability to easily post a picture or video online is allowing the practice to become more widespread, and with unintended consequences.

"If a relationship breaks down or someone finds that phone, then the image could end up on a website, a social networking site like Facebook, or could even end up in the wrong hands, as has happened, and end up on a pedophile network," Penn explained.

A survey of 2,000 young people released Tuesday by the children's charity Beatbullying found that more than one-third of 11 to 18-year-olds had received a sexually explicit email or text message, with 70 percent of them knowing the person who had sent the message.

Beatbullying CEO Emma-Jane Cross said it was important that parents and schools understood the increasing prevalence of sexting. 

Although the practice is well documented in the U.S. and Australia, it is still fairly unknown in Britain.

Young girls are particularly vulnerable, with evidence showing their boyfriends were pressuring the girls into taking and sharing explicit pictures, Beatbullying said.

Another important issue, although often overlooked, is that possessing or distributing explicit images of a person under the age of 18 could be in violation of the law, Penn said.

Indeed, a CEOP youth panel survey of 70 young people aged 11 to 16 found that nearly all of those surveyed were unaware that saving or distributing such images could be breaking Britain's 2003 Sexual Offenses Act.

"Obviously the law wasn't set up to prosecute children. It was set up to prosecute adults who were distributing this kind of image...but if they're (children) doing it maliciously, there are grounds perhaps to look at it as (a case of) harassment," said Penn.


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