Not all under-18 sexting cases being investigated
HUNDREDS of suspects in underage sexting cases have not been investigated by police after it was deemed not to be in the public interest.
More than 250 young people have not been probed by police in the past three years after making or sending illegal photos, results from a Freedom of Information request suggest.
Under UK law, it is illegal to make, distribute, possess or show a sexual image of anyone under 18. This includes images sent between under- 18s within a consensual relationship.
But not all cases reported to police will end in court, due to the “sensitive” nature of the circumstances involved.
Across South Wales, 176 juveniles were not investigated in consensual sexting cases between 2016 and 2018 after it was deemed not to be in the public interest, our information request revealed.
Four individuals received a caution during the same time period and 19 juveniles were charged.
Meanwhile, in North Wales 93 juveniles were not investigated after being reported to police over the same three-year period. However, the figures do not distinguish between consensual and non-consensual cases.
No individuals were cautioned or charged for consensual cases where images had been made and shared between young people.
Dyfed-Powys Police said they were unable to provide the relevant information due to the time scale required to retrieve the information.
Gwent Police had not replied to the request at the time of publication.
Responding to the figures, a spokesman for South Wales Police warned against viewing sexting as a “harmless teenage behaviour”.
He said: “Where offences are identified, South Wales Police seeks to deal in a proportionate manner, and a range of outcomes utilised to ensure children are not unnecessarily drawn into the criminal justice system.
“These are sensitive cases, and police investigations should consider the long-term impact of investigation and prosecution on young people.
“Police will take all cases seriously, with criminal investigations into those involving any form of exploitation. But it will always be a commonsense approach that doesn’t criminalise children unnecessarily.
“At the same time, it is important that this activity isn’t viewed as just harmless teenage behaviour.
“There are significant risks involved for children and young people; once an image is sent, control is lost, and it can cause significant distress if it gets into wider hands.
“We are clear that if this behaviour can be dealt with in other, more appropriate, ways, then it should be.”
North Wales Police did not wish to comment.
According to Amy Beaufort, supervisor at NSPCC’s Childline Cardiff branch, sexting can have serious consequences on a young person’s mental heath.
She said: “It’s something we are finding a lot of young people talking about.
“They will have questions around what can happen next if they send an image. As soon as a young person sends an image or video, it’s out of their control. That worry about who could see it has a massive impact. It can create concerns and upset along with other issues and puts that pressure on someone’s mental health.
“We also have young people talk to us who have asked for images from other people. We have young people who have no awareness of the fact that it is illegal.”
She added: “The more parents, teachers and young people are aware of the consequences, the more we can help teach people not to send images in the first place.”
An NSPCC Cymru/Wales spokesperson added: “Children who share images of themselves should be taught why it’s potentially dangerous rather than be branded criminals.
“But many young people also tell us, via Childline, that they feel pressured into sending sexual images and don’t always have the confidence to say no.
“It’s vital parents take the first step – even if it feels awkward – to talk to their child about the dangers of sexting and the NSPCC has a guide for parents to help them have this conversation.”
■ You can get further advice about sexting here or call Childline for free on 0800 1111. Parents get can the latest advice by using the O2 NSPCC online safety helpline or by calling 0808 800 5002.