‘Parents need to be on guard’ - children as young as seven caught sexting
- Credit: PA
Children as young as seven in Norfolk have been caught sending nude and sexually explicit photos via mobile phones, new figures reveal.
Almost 400 children under the age of 14 have been caught sending or possessing indecent images in the last three years, according to Norfolk Police data.
Parents are being warned to be "on guard", amid fears the images could end up on the internet, and being used by paedophiles.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chief Council's lead on child protection, said one-third of all indecent images discovered online by the Internet Watch Foundation were self-generated after children "lose control" of them.
"What young people are not recognising is when they generate these images they could find themselves on the web and become the stimulation for people who have a sexual interest in children," he said.
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"They can lose control of those images and it could end up being material used by sexual offenders. Parents need to be on guard and aware of the risks technology brings."
He added: "This crime pays no heed to social strata and that person on the other end of the phone grooming that child is interested in one thing and one thing alone - their own sexual gratification."
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He said parents should ensure their children had the right security settings, knew the danger of talking to strangers and only communicated with friends online.
"Please ensure your children understand the risks and that the right security settings are in place. If your children use technology in their bedroom be assured they are only speaking to their friends and understand the risks of speaking to strangers."
Just five of the 400 Norfolk children caught sending or possessing indecent images have been formally dealt with - through a community resolution - in that time.
Mr Bailey said: "We don't want to criminalise a generation of children, but they have to understand the risks."
An NSPCC spokesperson for the East of England said: "Once [children] send a nude image of themselves they lose control of who views or shares it, which could result in them being abused, bullied or blackmailed.
"It's important that parents have regular conversations with their children about staying safe online, including the risks of sharing and viewing self-generated sexual images.
"We also want to see the dangers of sexting being taught in schools as part of new sex and relationships education which teaches children about healthy relationships, respect and consent."
It comes as the NSPCC has warned of a "national crisis" in sexual offences against children, which have risen in Norfolk by 60pc since 2014/15
Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO, said: "Record numbers of child sexual offences means we are facing a nationwide crisis in the help available for tens of thousands of children.
Mr Bailey said a "significant percentage" of the rise was down to police work tackling online abuse.
"The undisputable fact is the volume of referrals we are receiving continues to grow," he said. "Until such time as the companies that are providing the software that permits grooming of children and uploading and sharing of indecent images meet their moral responsibility seriously, the numbers are going to carry on growing.
"They have a responsibility to police what is taking place in their chatroom facilities."
Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk for information about what to do if asked to send an explicit image or how to get an image taken down.