Hundreds of children spared criminal records under ‘sexting’ guidance
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Hundreds of children in the last four years have been spared a criminal record under guidance designed to deal with the rise of ‘sexting’.
Between January 2016 and November 2019, police received 757 reports of under-18s taking, making or distributing indecent images of children.
Almost 400 boys and girls were dealt with under 'Outcome 21' - used in cases with no evidence of exploitation or malicious intent.
While the consensual sharing of self-generated images among teens has been decriminalised in other countries, it remains a crime in England and Wales.
However, many cases involving children have resulted in formal action not being deemed in the public interest.
According to Freedom of Information data, almost a third (392) of the 1,327 people dealt with by way of Outcome 21 in Suffolk since 2016 fell into the category of 'youth produced sexual imagery'.
Detective Superintendent David Giles, of the crime, safeguarding and incident management team, said: "Until someone turns 18, they are still a child and it's absolutely right that the action of sending and distributing sexual images is controlled by law, but we don't want to criminalise children when we can highlight the risks and safeguard them generally.
"If we're notified of a crime of that nature, whether it's detected at school, by a parent, or reported by an individual, and a complaint is made, we will record a crime under Home Office counting rules.
"But we're empowered to have a number of options for what action is taken.
"We have to ask ourselves if it's in the public interest when youngsters haven't understood the dangers. Then it's more about intervention, diversion and safeguarding.
"Every case comes with its own considerations, such as age, antecedence, severity and aggravating features, like how widely it has been distributed."
The decision to disclose non-conviction information on a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate is taken by a senior police officer in each force.
It is unlikely information would be revealed by an enhanced DBS check, unless the person being checked is investigated, or has further action taken against them in the future, which could suggest a relevant pattern of behaviour.
Det Supt Giles said: "After using Outcome 21, we will give safeguarding advice and may make referrals to charities to highlight the dangers.
"We wouldn't continue to monitor them through the rest of their lives, but the outcome may be reconsidered if anything else comes to light.
"It's a wide and far reaching issue, simply because of the availability of technology.
"Prevention starts with responsible adults in a child's life. Parents, grandparents, carers, teachers.
"We're not saying it's entirely down to the child, but as we grow older, we have to take on more responsibilty for our actions.
"There are international issues with online platforms, but the onus has to be taken down to household level, in relation to who has access to what, and being in tune with what youngsters have on their devices.
"We have a growing population, wider availability of technology and cheaper devices.
"But once you've sent an image to someone, you have no control of where that ends up, and that's the danger."