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Children from Manchester have learnt about the consequences of taking and sharing sexual pictures and video content of themselves, as part of this year’s Safer Internet Day, Tuesday 5th February.

They took part in a series of ‘mock’ courtroom trials, debating the legal and ethical implications of ‘sexting’ in a joint event by, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, Manchester Safeguarding Children Board and Manchester Healthy Schools.

In 2012, the CEOP reported that 1 in 5 of all reports into the law enforcement organisation related to the distribution of ‘self-generated’ indecent images *1. Indeed, with IWF also reporting that 88% of self generated, sexually explicit online images and videos of young people are taken from their original location and uploaded onto other websites *2, sexting is a growing trend which is putting young people at risk online.

With smart phone ownership increasing among 12-15 year olds, with six out of ten (62%) now owning one *3, this now gives children more opportunities to easily communicate with strangers online and share images on the move.

Using the characters from CEOP’s First to a Million education film, which follows a group of teenagers in their battle to reach a million views online through their increasingly outrageous films, young people from Manchester Voicebox run by Manchester Healthy Schools were asked to prepare a number of cases looking at the legal and ethical repercussions of participating in risky online behaviour, with sentences being proposed after the cases have been heard using the current UK legislation available. The outcome of the event will then be shared with schools across Manchester.

The event in Manchester coincides with CEOP’s national call to action asking parents to get more involved in what their children are doing online. It follows the announcement of an alarming new trend identified by the Centre that child sex offenders are increasingly targeting children solely for the purpose of online abuse with fewer reports this year resulting in an offline meeting for abuse.

Additionally, new research highlights a deadly combination of factors leads to some children being particularly at risk from online grooming. Parental or carer involvement in a child’s online life can make the crucial difference between a child being protected, CEOP and University of Birmingham research says. *4 and risk-taking by young people, such as engaging in sexualised chat and sending explicit images – is the key factor in their vulnerability to grooming and potential contact with child sex offenders.

However, children whose internet activities are monitored and who have an open dialogue with their parents/carers about what they do or see online are better protected from grooming and more resilient to the techniques used by offenders.
Jonathan Baggaley, Head of Education at CEOP:

Pictures and videos can now be shared online in an instant and even on the move by young people. It’s very easy to upload something that you’ll regret later without thinking and run into all sorts of problems.

We know that young people in these situations often don’t know where to turn for help when things have gone wrong. It’s important they don’t feel isolated or alone when this happens.

We are delighted to be working with young people across Manchester to explore these issues and hope that the discussions and debates they have will help other young people in thinking twice before they act.

Ian Rush – Independent Chair – Manchester Safeguarding Children’s Board:

Online sex abuse doesn’t yet have the same kind of profile in terms of public awareness as other forms of child abuse. Yet this *5 report shows it is every bit as major a challenge.

We are taking this issue very seriously in Manchester which will hopefully make everyone; parents, teachers and most importantly, children and young people themselves, aware of the very real dangers and need to take every care when using the Internet and providing information about yourself.

*1 Sample of 2,293 reports received from the National Center for Missing and exploited Children in November 2011. CEOP Threat Assessment of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, 2012.

*2 IWF research, October 2012

*3 Ofcom, Children and Parents: Media use and attitudes report. October 2012

*4 Whittle, H; Hamilton-Giachritsis, C.; Beech A.; Collings, G. (2013) A Review of Young People’s Vulnerabilities to Online Grooming. Aggression and Violent Behaviour Journal. Vol. 18. Issue 1

*5 Whittle, H; Hamilton-Giachritsis, C.; Beech A.; Collings, G. (2013) A Review of Young People’s Vulnerabilities to Online Grooming. Aggression and Violent Behaviour Journal. Vol. 18. Issue 1

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