The charity is calling for young people to receive better education and support to understand the dangers of sexually risky behaviour such as “sexting”, the term used to describe the sending of indecent images of themselves to a friend by phone or the internet.
The call follows media reports that a Nottinghamshire schoolgirl received a police caution for sending a topless picture of herself to her boyfriend. Her boyfriend was also reported to have received the same penalty after he showed the image to his friends.
Nottinghamshire police highlighted the case in a letter recently sent to all secondary schools in the county that warned about the rise of instances of sexting involving children. However, it said it was unaware of the outcome of the case reported in the media and so could not confirm whether the young people were convicted.
Under the Protection of Children Act 1978, any conviction involving indecent images of young people can carry a sentence of between six months and 14 years in prison. Those convicted can also be placed on the sex offenders register.
Commenting on the reported conviction, Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “The police have got it wrong in this case. Criminalising young people for sexting can harm their education, job prospects and life chances.
“Barnardo’s is seeing more sexting among the people we work with. Young people need to realise the danger of indecent 'selfies’, which can’t be withdrawn once they are sent and can be used by peers to bully or coerce a child into sexual behaviour.
“Barnardo’s is calling for sexually risky behaviour to be prevented and tackled with better support and tailored sex education measures such as our Wud-U app.”
Coram Children’s Legal Centre warns that while young people who possess or send sexual images of themselves are unlikely to face conviction for a first offence, “each case is looked at on its merits, and individual aggravating factors such as emotional and psychological damage will be taken into account”.
*To read more about sexting see Coram’s legal update in the current issue of CYP Now or click here
*For advice for professionals on how to educate and support young people about the risks of sexting click here