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UK teens bullied into sending sex texts

P2P playground predators exposed in new survey

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UK teenagers are increasingly sending provocative pictures of themselves to each other in mobile phone and email messages, with some youngsters getting bullied or coerced into making explicit images of themselves.

A survey of 2,000 UK youngsters by charity Beatbullying found that more than a third (38 per cent) of 11-18 year-olds have received an "offensive or distressing sexual image" via either text or email. These sex texts - or "sexts" - were most often sent to their school friends and often took the form of boys or girls exposing themselves (or in some cases masturbating) rather than sex acts between youngsters.

Sexual content is also been exchanged by teenagers through social networking groups. A quarter of the messages (23 per cent) were sent by a recipient's current boyfriend or girlfriend. A further 45 per cent came from a peer. Two per cent of the messages came from adults.

Of the quarter of those surveyed who received an "offensive sexual image", 55 per cent were sent via mobile phone.

Beatbullying said that in many cases girls, in particular, are bullied into making and distributing explicit pictures of themselves. Sexting is therefore much more than a high-tech updates to the game of "show me yours and I'll show you mine".

Under UK law even children who distribute pictures of themselves can be charged with child porn offences. Peer to peer anti-social and predatory behaviour is one of the biggest single threats faces young people online, Beatbullying warns.

Emma-Jane Cross, Beatbullying chief executive, said: "We don't want to stifle young people's sexual development, but it is important that parents and schools understand the rise of sexting so together we can act to stop sexual bullying."

"Politicians must pool together organisations like Beatbullying to create an intervention and prevention task force in schools and the local community," she added.

Schools Minister Diana Johnson told the BBC that the government was engaged in developing policies to tackle all forms of bullying, including developing schemes in partnership with technology firms to combat high-tech threats. ®

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