Children as young as 11 have been investigated by West Yorkshire Police for “sexting” in the last year – amid concerns about a steep rise in the problem.
The force is launching a campaign to stop children sending explicit pictures to one another after revealing they investigated 22 offences in the first three months of this year – nearly four times the six cases reported in the previous nine months.
In three of those cases, the child caught with the images was 11. Another 18 were aged either 12 or 13.
Police are warning youngsters they are committing a crime if they encourage others to send images of a sexual nature – and risk wrecking their lives if they do.
Detective Chief Inspector Sue Jenkinson of West Yorkshire Police, said: “‘Sexting’ is an activity we have become increasingly aware of amongst young people and many may not realise that what they are doing is illegal or that it may be potentially harmful to them in the future.
“Those who encourage people under 16 to take sexually explicit pictures of themselves should be under no illusion though that what they are doing is a criminal offence which will be investigated.
“This could lead to you getting into trouble with the police, affect your chances of getting a job and even limit the countries that you can travel to.”
As well as text messages, the cases investigated by police in the last year included instances of youngsters sending one another pictures on social networking websites Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
The force’s new ‘Think before you send’ campaign features advice for victims and warnings to potential offenders.
Posters and postcards are being distributed among youth and community groups and officers will be visiting schools and events to get the message across.
DCI Jenkinson added: “Any image of yourself that you send can and might be shared by the person you sent it to, or even used for blackmail.
“Remember, once you press send you press send, you can’t undo and can’t go back.
“I would urge teenagers to think about when someone might ask you to send a naked or indecent image.
“If someone is trying to or has forced you to send a sexual image of yourself to them you should call police on 101 and tell someone you can trust. This could be a parent or carer, teacher or family member. You may feel uncomfortable about telling your parents but they will need to know so that they can help and support you.
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, said: “It is very important that young people recognise the risks of ‘sexting’ and the dangers associated with it.
“That is why I have used money taken from criminals and invested it into this campaign to make sure it reaches the right people and has the maximum impact.”
Visit www.westyorkshire.police.uk/sexting for more information.