Only two in 50 sexting cases have led to prosecution in Northern Ireland
Only two out of almost 50 cases involving youths swapping sex images in Northern Ireland have led to prosecutions, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
And a further 13 of the 'sexting' incidents between April and September this year were dealt with by cautions. No action was taken in the vast majority of the cases - even though 'sexting' is a criminal offence.
The Public Prosecution Service made a total of 47 decisions between April 1 and September 12 relating to "cases of indecent images of children and other image offences" - and 32 were verdicts of 'no prosecution'.
In more than half the cases, there was insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution, while the others were judged not to be in the public interest. Even though some of those involved have passed the age of consent - 17-years-old - they could potentially face a 10-year prison sentence.
And the PPS has warned against any move to de-criminalise the distribution of sexualised pictures, saying it could put teenagers at risk of further harm, and the status quo can keep young people out of the criminal justice system. A statement said: "The PPS understands that there can be circumstances in which a young person under the age of 18 unknowingly breaks the law by sharing an inappropriate self-image in a consensual or non-malicious way.
"When considering cases of this nature, we take a sensitive approach to the individual circumstances of each file, and, importantly where there would otherwise be sufficient evidence to prosecute, any public interest factors which should be taken into consideration. These factors can include the ages of those involved, who took the image, the nature of the image, whether the sharing of the image was consensual and whether there was any malicious intent.
"To de-criminalise the offences around self-images would allow for young people to distribute images of themselves unsolicited to others, including other young people, which can be distressing for the recipient and risks inadvertently exposing the sender to future harm."
Examples include when an image is then re-shared without consent - or where perceptions arise that the sender could be open to engaging in other forms of sexual conduct.
A spokesperson added: "The current framework allows for the police and PPS to work together to discuss a case to avoid a young person being brought fully into the justice system where they have behaved in a way that doesn't cause any concern to statutory agencies or for the wider community."