‘Sexting’ threat to young teenagers
TEENAGERS as young as 13 are putting themselves at increasing risk of sexual crimes through social media, experts at a crisis centre have warned.
Professionals at the new Swindon Sanctuary Sexual Assault Referral Centre have described what they say is a worrying rise in young people ‘sexting’ – sending sexually explicit images and videos via their mobile phones.
The rise of free picture messaging services such as WhatsApp and Snapchat have paved the way for a huge rise in ‘sexting’, so much so the word has already made it into the Oxford Dictionary.
But SARC’s outreach workers have warned it is increasingly leading young people in the town prone to abuse, as messages are then shared on public sites or with other people once the sender has lost control of the image.
Such is the level of concern that members of the SARC have begun to tour schools to talk to Year 9 students about the issue.
So far they have been to Warneford School, in Highworth, and Kingsdown School, in Swindon, among others and the centre’s manager Jools James-Kempshall said several young people had already come forward.
She said: “One of the things that we are concerned about, and the young people tell us about, is intimate messages being sent on social networks. Apps like WhatsApp and via text messages then end up on Facebook.
“They are used by bullies or as blackmail and it can have a devastating effect on the victims. This is something that has really become prevalent recently and was not happening when we started SARC – it has just accelerated.
“The biggest thing we try to get across to the students is having the confidence to say no and that it’s about consent. The danger is once they have sent that image they don’t have control of it any more. It can cause a lot of damage psychologically and we have seen a lot of self-harm as a result of this, as well as depression and anxiety.
“We had about seven referrals through visiting schools in total so far and those are people who would not have come forward if we had not gone to them. I would encourage people to report it.”
A recent national survey by children’s charity the NSPCC suggested 60 per cent of 13 to 18 year olds said they had been asked for a sexual image or video of themselves, while 40 per cent had done so and 25 per cent then sent them to someone else.
So far this year, between April and December, SARC has seen 347 clients and of those just under a third – 105 – have been aged under 18.
In the 12 months prior to April this year there had been 110 so, with four whole months to run, this year’s figure is expected to surpass that.
While not all of these relate to sexting, of course, many of the young people specialist Independent Sexual Violence Advisor Val Haddrell sees are struggling with pressures and problems relating to sexting.
She said: “My role is about providing emotional support and I am the child’s voice in the process when we offer them support.
“I give them advice and young people want information all the time. They want to know the law of sexual offences and I can keep them up to date.
“We have found that there is a lot of bullying going on in schools. Maybe someone has found out something about someone or they are sending indecent images and once it’s out there it’s out there.
“What a lot of them don’t realise is it can be against the law to send indecent images.
“When we go into the schools we are talking to them about positive relationships. They may feel safe with the person they are with but once that message has been sent they have lost it and it could end up online, maybe if they split up or fall out.
“There’s a lot of bullying online and young people can get into really bad situations. They are vulnerable and believe what they are told.
“That’s why we are trying to get the message out there to them. The young people so far have been very good and want to know about it.”
For more information visit the SARC website www.swindonsanctuary.co.uk and if you have any issues or need support contact the 24-hour helpline on 0808 168 0024.
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