In the wake of a series of arrests linked to child sex exploitation, Wakefield has been chosen to launch a new initiative aimed at combating so-called sexting.
Research shows that as many as one in four young people under 18 have either sent or been sent images of a sexual nature via their mobile phones, and, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), many become embroiled unwittingly.
Last year, the IWF examined 2,082 child sexual abuse images and found that 96 per cent of the material depicted children in their own homes. Many of these images had been harvested by predators from online and social media platforms where children had innocently or naively shared them.
In a bid to raise awareness of the problem, the Ineque Safeguarding Group is today holding a seminar in five different locations, including Wakefield, to help teachers tackle the growing number of young people taking and sharing inappropriate images.
Jim Gamble, the chief executive officer of ISG, said: “There won’t be a parent, carer, teacher or other safeguarding professional in Wakefield who will not be familiar with, or concerned about, this growing problem.
“Young people now live in a digital world, where social media, reinforced by the world of celebrity influencers and reality TV, encourages them to do whatever it takes to ‘celebritise’ themselves. With this culture comes unprecedented levels of harm and risk.
“Understanding the final destination of self-generated imagery is vital. These seminars represent a great opportunity for everyone involved in the Safer Schools Partnership across Wakefield to share and strengthen their knowledge.
“Critically this information will also be available via an app, which is available to parents, carers and safeguarding professionals, so the information they need will always be where they need it, when they need it, in their pockets.”
Official reports also show that on average, one child in every primary school classroom has been sent a naked or semi-naked image online from an adult. Add to that, globally, one in eight under 18 year olds have admitted to having had a ‘sext’ forwarded without their consent.
The Wakefield seminar comes after the number of offences linked to child sexual exploitation in the Yorkshire and the Humber region have increased by about 60 per cent in the last two years, rising from 297 to 473 offences during 2018-2019.
Earlier this year, 20 people were arrested in Wakefield after two girls claimed they had been sexually exploited.
Marie Williams, a safeguarding risk consultant at Zurich, which is supporting ISG in delivering the scheme, said: “These events have been organised in response to an alarming number of concerns we have had from teachers and social workers. It’s most striking that in some cases young people are sharing images which may end up being reproduced on other sites.
“Every time these images are shared further, a young person is re-victimised so we need to make every effort to educate our children, parents and guardians, and entire schools communities about online risks and how to avoid situation where a child may become a victim of online sexual abuse.”