Children as young as five should be taught in school about the risks of ‘sexting’ and online porn, a senior police child protection expert said last night.
Peter Davies, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection center, warned that younger children were accessing the web, meaning they could stumble across adult material.
He told MPs that an increasing number were sending sexually explicit images of themselves to each other, in a practice known as ‘sexting’, and primary school pupils needed to be told of the risks involved.
His organization is distributing films to schools aimed at children between five and eight, to train them how to avoid online dangers.
It came as the NSPCC brought out a report warning that teenage girls are coming under increasing pressure to text and email sexually explicit pictures of themselves.
The charity said ‘sexting’ is believed to affect more than a third of under-18s. The Daily Mail is campaigning for an automatic block on online porn, with adults having to ‘opt in’ if they wish to access sexual material.
Mr Davies, who is also the child protection spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, told the Commons education select committee: ‘Online abuse is just as harmful as offline abuse. In many ways the level of fear and the psychological pressure is greater.’
And he warned children were using the internet at a much younger age, meaning they needed to be taught about the dangers from primary school.
‘The moment a child becomes the subject of the education system, that’s when you should start,’ he added. ‘We used to extend our education packages down to ten, they are now down to about eight.
‘We are realizing we may need to pitch them at ages below that because this is not something that kids do when they are at home in the sitting room under the natural surveillance of their family – the phone is in their pocket and with them all the time.
‘It’s never too early. Children start using the internet long before they enter the education system, so it should start the moment they come through the doors.’
Mr Davies also warned the type of child pornography online was getting worse. ‘The apparent ages of victims in images is getting lower and the level of severity of the images is getting worse,’ he said.
And he told MPs that although sexting was a growing problem, only a ‘tiny’ proportion of incidents where it had ‘gone wrong’ were reported to police.
The NSPCC study of sexting was carried out by King’s College London, the Institute of Education and the London School of Economics.
It found after interviewing 35 teenagers at two London schools that girls as young as 11 were being asked to send ‘special photos’ to boys they knew.
In some cases, the girls had to write a name in black marker pen on a part of their body to show it was the ‘property’ of a certain boy. They also faced a ‘barrage’ of messages demanding intercourse or oral sex.
Professor Rosalind Gill, of King’s College, said: ‘Until now, e-safety campaigns have focused on preparing young people to face dangers posed by strangers online.
‘Our report suggests the focus needs to shift to include the much more complicated issue of peer-to-peer communication and the difficulties and isolation young people experience in negotiating this.’
Jon Brown, head of the sexual abuse program at the NSPCC, said: ‘What’s most striking about this research is many young people seem to accept this is part of life.
‘But it can be another layer of sexual abuse and, although most children will not be aware, it is illegal.’
Source: Mail Online